With only nine active players available against the Magic Tuesday afternoon in Orlando, the Nets relied on players who usually come off the bench, but it didn’t slow the momentum they have been riding during the NBA restart. Coach Jacque Vaughn said it still was important for his reserves to “maintain the organization’s standards,” and they did that in dominant fashion on their way to a 108-96 victory.
Their third straight win ran the Nets’ record in “seeding” games at Disney World to 5-2 and left them at 35-36 with a chance to reach the .500 mark in their final regular-season game against Portland on Thursday night. The Nets built a 21-point lead in the second period, and it never slipped to less than 11 points the rest of the way.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot led six Nets in double figures with 24 points, Jeremiah Martin also had a career-high 24 off the bench, Dzanan Musa totaled 17 points, and Tyler Johnson had 14. Markelle Fultz and Wes Iwundu each had 18 for the Magic (32-40), but the Nets held them to 38.6 shooting from the field.
“It’s a great performance,” Vaughn said. “We wanted to play well and to be gritty, not shy away from contact and be the aggressors. We want to keep this momentum and also to keep our poise at the same time.”
With their first-round playoff matchups already determined, the Nets and Magic rested several key players. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Garrett Temple sat out for the Nets, and the Magic rested Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Terrance Ross, and Michael Carter-Williams.
The Nets now can use their game against the Trail Blazers as a tuneup for their first-round playoff matchup with the defending NBA champion Raptors, which will begin either Monday or Tuesday, and their second unit can go into the playoffs under a full head of steam.
“We’ve been having a good rhythm and playing really well on both ends of the court,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who shot 8-for-12 from the field, including 4 of 8 from three-point range. “It’s really important going into the playoffs. It’s always good to share the ball and play defense all together. It’s very important. One more game to keep that rhythm.”
The Nets took control early when they hit four straight three-points to trigger a 16-0 run that included nine points from Johnson for a 29-17 lead. Luwawu-Cabarrot had 17 of his points in the opening quarter.
In the second period, Martin contributed 12 points as the Nets’ lead reached 21 before they settled for a 60-43 halftime advantage while holding the Magic to 29.5 percent shooting.
Late in the third quarter, the Magic put together a 13-4 run that cut the Nets’ lead to 11, but a pair of threes early in the fourth quarter by Lance Thomas and Musa restored a 17-point Nets lead at 93-76, and they cruised to victory from there.
Point guard Chris Chiozza left the game in the fourth quarter with what was described as right adductor tightness, but Vaughn expressed confidence that he will be ready for the playoffs. Even if the injury lingers, Martin has shown surprising offensive ability and is ready to step up if necessary.
His attitude and play are typical of a deep Nets bench that has played a major role in building playoff momentum for a team from which little was expected in Orlando. “Everybody was laughing at us, saying the Nets were going to look [bad] and seeing things all over the internet saying we weren’t going to do this,” Martin said. “So, we just take that every day, every practice, keeping that chip on our shoulder, proving everybody wrong and showing everybody who we are.”