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Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks in playoff preview?

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So much on the line, playoff seeding, New York title, farewell to home

USA TODAY Sports

If the playoffs were to begin Sunday, the Nels would face the Hawks in the first round. So the game Sunday night has a lot of meaning outside the race for the Atlantic Division.

"It means a lot because we might end up playing them (in the playoffs)," former Net DeShawn Stevenson said. "We don’t want to be down 3-1. That game is important."

Of course, it's also the first game after a four-day rest and the last game before the eight-game, 17-day road trip. Moroever, if the Knicks lose to the Clippers in the afternoon and the Nets beat the Hawks at night, Brooklyn would be in a tie for the Atlantic Division lead. And with the Pacers losing to the 76ers Saturday, a Nets win would put them within a game of the second seed.

The Hawks have had particular trouble with Nets center Brook Lopez in the first three games. He has scored 60 points and grabbed 24 rebounds. The Hawks started Zaza Pachulia to defend Lopez in the first two games. They used Johan Petro in the previous meeting and will again Sunday, as Pachulia continues to be out with a sore right Achilles. Jeff Teague will play but has been sick. So, with the Hawks down to Petro, Ivan Johnson and Shelvin Mack, expect Lopez and Andray Blatce to get a lot of touches, whether playing alone or together.

We may also see a return by Kris Humphries and Jerry Stackhouse. More importantly, it will be Joe Johnson's return after a week. He says it's not that important for him to play against the Hawks, just that he needs to test out his heel.

Johnson is averaging only 13.7 points on 33.3 percent shooting against the Hawks this season. The most recent one was Brooklyn's 93-80 road victory last Saturday, as Atlanta matched its fourth-lowest point total of the season. They've won their last two after losing three straight.

"We're going to see a totally different Atlanta game I'm sure, I'm afraid, Sunday night than we saw down in Atlanta," Carlesimo said.