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Nets in playoff race facing exhilaration ... but also stress and anxiety

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After the Pistons’ late game collapse in Portland, the Nets are, per WFAN’s Steve Lichtenstein, .000376 out of the sixth seed, meaning the two teams are in a virtual tie. The Nets are 38-36, the Pistons 37-35. And Detroit plays Golden State Sunday in Oakland while the Nets have one more day off until they play the Trail Blazers in Portland. A Pistons loss and the Nets would be in sole possession of sixth ... on March 25. Extraordinary.

What’s also extraordinary is that so few of the Nets key players have experienced anything like this before. D’Angelo Russell —who is leading the playoff push as if he’s done it all before, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Rodions Kurucs haven’t even smelled the post-season in their NBA careers. Kurucs admitted he didn’t experience the post-season in Europe either. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris both have playoff experience but were very minor pieces in the Pistons and Cavaliers runs.

But so far, so good. Kenny Atkinson, who as an assistant experienced a couple of runs, says that while he’s happy for the players, he admits he’s dealing with stress and anxiety.

“No,” Atkinson answered when asked if he’s enjoying the run. “There is zero enjoyment in this. That’s terrible to say. I love the players, I love being in the locker room, and I really enjoy this [media] part too, around people that love the game. So that’s cool. Just the anxiety and the stress, the goal we want to get to, I still feel like we’re miles away from it.

“Every game it’s more and more pressure and anxiety, and you carry that around every second of the day. So that’s where the ‘enjoy’ kind of goes out the window.”

Certainly the historic comeback against Sacramento and eliminating the Lakers from the playoffs were great moments and ownership has been there to do its part, reduce the stress. On Saturday, Clara Wu Tsai, Joe’s wife and a philanthropist in her own right, hosted the team and staff at an oceanside event in L.A.

But at Atkinson notes, the Nets have miles to go. Of their remaining eight games, all but one of them are against playoff-bound teams. Only the Heat who the Nets play in the last game of the season, has a losing record and they’re in the playoff hunt.

It’s hard to tell how many of those teams will be resting players when they face Brooklyn but you can’t count on that (although the East race is starting to broaden out.)

So, you just keep going and going and going. And it starts with the final two games of the road trip, Monday vs. Portland, Thursday vs. Philadelphia.

“I will say, it would be great to get a bonus one,” Atkinson told the media after the Lakers win. “I just told the guys in the locker room we’ve got two left on this trip. If we could split them, that would be a huge bonus. It would give us a lot of momentum going into the rest of our season.”

Everybody on the team knows it.

“Every game for us is huge,” said Joe Harris. “Every game here on out [has] huge significance for us and our playoff aspirations.”

Right now, the team’s defense has become its key weapon. They allowed the Lakers to shoot a mere 38.5 percent for the game and held the Kings to 18 points in the fourth quarter of their miracle comeback while scoring 45.

“We got just enough stops,” Dinwiddie said of how the Nets held off the Lakers. “We want that to be our calling card, especially going to the playoffs and hopefully making a run at this thing. We can’t only rely on shot-making to do that.”

Dinwiddie was asked by Greg Logan how confident the players are about the playoffs. He offered a one-word answer: “Extremely.”

Of course, the Nets will be carrying their increasingly excited fans hopes with them ... as well as their own.

No pressure.