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Nets long, tough playoff push gets underway as Pistons arrive in Brooklyn

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets squeaked out a win in Atlanta, braving a Vince Carter buzzer beater attempt that seemed almost destined to go in. It didn’t, and the Nets left Atlanta with their third straight W and a 35-33 record. Not bad! I don’t know how many people would’ve had the Nets being the owners of a winning record this late into the season, but it probably wasn’t a ton. This season has been awesome and the Nets are about to head into an absolutely crucial stretch of games if they want to continue the winning and fun and dancing and so on.

The term “Must Win” doesn’t sit well with me unless we’re talking about an elimination playoff game. Otherwise, it’s a long season. Every team is going to win some, and every team is going to lose some, and rarely do we see one single game matter enough to swing a season for anyone. With that being said, this Pistons game is an absolute Must Win. Detroit will be coming off of a back-to-back against Chicago and even though they won the game easily, they’ll be traveling and playing basketball two days in a row. Huge advantage for Brooklyn.

Moreover, whoever wins the game will win the tie-breaker over the other. The teams have split two games so far. Gotta win this one. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30pm, ET.

Injuries

Treveon Graham (back) is out again while Shabazz Napier (personal) is expected back vs. the Pistons. Dzanan Musa continues on assignment with the Long Island Nets.

Bruce Brown (ankle) is day to day.

The Game

The Pistons employ two Big Boys in their frontcourt, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. If you’ve watched the Nets at all for the last —oh I don’t know, six years— you know that Big Strong Centers tend to grab a million rebounds and dominate the post against Brooklyn.

John Collins just put up 33 and 20 in that Atlanta game and he’s skinny. Andre Drummond has averaged 14.4 rebounds per game since his second season in the league, and in two games against Brooklyn this season has grabbed 20 and 23 rebounds. That’s 21.5 per game for all you math geniuses out there (yes I had to use my phone calculator to do that ... whatever). He’s primed to feast and it’s going to take a Herculean effort from Ed Davis and Jarrett Allen to keep him at bay.

If Brooklyn has a little something of a competitive or narrative edge, it’s 1) that Detroit stole the six seed and Brooklyn needs to take it back and 2) We all know Spencer Dinwiddie absolutely loves a revenge game. Detroit took Dinwiddie in the second round of the 2014 draft, traded him and after a couple of years bouncing around unsuccessfully, Spencer landed in Brooklyn with a will to win and a chip on his shoulder. He became the Nets record holder for points off the bench in a single season Saturday, and he’s going to look to ride his recent hot streak to a big game against his former team.

Since the beginning of February, Detroit is third in the league in three pointers made per game, 11th in the league in scoring, and first in the league in plus/minus, they’ve been great. They made a couple of trades, adding Thon Maker and Wayne Ellington while shipping out Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson. Otherwise, their roster has largely stayed the same. Reggie Jackson is still very much their starting point guard and he’s very much the same player he’s always been except this season he’s a little hot from three, shooting 37 percent from deep. They just seem to be clicking with each other right now, which actually might be a good thing for the Nets.

Every team goes on runs during the season. We saw the Nets win seven straight after dropping eight in a row. It happens. It’s what you do in those other games that matters, and Detroit is almost certainly bound to cool off sometime soon. If all they can do is barely steal the six seed after playing the best basketball of their entire season, the Nets really might be able to stick this run out and take it back by seasons end.

Allen Crabbe has been truly awful lately, shooting 29/23/71 over his last eight games, three of which he’s started. At this point it’s unclear if he’s ever going to be consistent enough as a shooter to be reliable in any significant capacity. He may just be an $18 million role player who sometimes hit shots and a lot of the time does not. The worst part is that he could be such an asset, because when the Nets can efficiently spread the floor with legitimate threats weaving in and out of D’Angelo Russell’s gravity, they become of of the most potent and dangerous offenses in the league.

DLo’s passing was on full display in Atlanta, and watching him break down a defense with the precision of a surgeon is beauteous. Crabbe being on would provide the Nets another option for some crafty spacing, although their best option might just be to reduce his minutes and run with Joe Harris, DeMarre Carroll and Caris LeVert on the wings.

Player to Watch

It’s kind of wild to consider the fact that the Blake Griffin trade worked out for Detroit. At the time, it seemed like they were just sort of taking him on to save some face for a boring and underperforming franchise and maybe put some more fans in seats to watch a broken down superstar play past his prime. Since the trade, Griffin has become a superstar level player again, seemingly regenerating his body to the point where he’s a threat from any and all spots on the court, not just in the post. I think he was just bored in Los Angeles. Sure he might’ve loved the city and the comedy scene and being a celebrity, but all those Lob City teams started to feel redundant and heavy and in need of a shakeup. He got one, but in the Midwest, and now he’s the most important player on a team that really needs him. It’s cool to watch. He’s scoring a career-high 25.3 points per game to go along with 7.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 47/36/74 shooting. He is a dynamic player, and is once again one of the most impactful big men in the league. And he might be looking for some revenge on Jarrett Allen.

Playoff Watch

With their win Sunday over the Bulls, the Pistons are now in sole possession of the six seed, a half game ahead of the Nets. But two other teams in the playoff race lost on Sunday, the Heat to the Raptors, the Magic to the Grizzlies. The Heat are now three games behind the Nets and the Magic four games back ... not counting the tiebreaker Brooklyn has on Orlando.

The Nets magic number to clinch a playoff spot is nine, meaning a combination of nine wins or ninth place team losses. In other words, win as many as you can and don’t worry about what others do unless you have to.

Any win with the Nets’ seven-game, 16-day road trip looming will be appreciated.

From The Vault

Here’s a song for everyone to either cap off or start off your weeks. Maybe it’ll be some good juju for the Nets.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Detroit Bad Boys, our sister site on SB Nation.