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Nets blow golden opportunity to move up in the standings with 131-121 loss to Milwaukee

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Magic lost, the Pistons lost and the Heat lost. It was the perfect trifecta for Brooklyn to capitalize on with only one game separating them and oblivion, that is the nine seed.

But, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the one-seed Milwaukee Bucks had different intentions. Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds and lifted Milwaukee to a 131-121 finish, Monday night at Barclays Center. They did it without Khris Middleton.

The Nets, at 39-39, caught a break with the three other teams losing, but this would’ve been a golden opportunity to potentially solidify a spot. You’d like to chalk this one up as a moral victory, but it’s too late for that.

The Bucks led 35-13 with 1:39 left in the first quarter. The Nets briefly incorporated a zone, Caris LeVert stepped up and suddenly the Nets were up by one following a 29-6 run, capped off by a DeMarre Carroll dunk on the break.

Barclays was packed and the crowd was on its feet like it was a playoff game.

... After all, it sorta was.

But, Giannis and the Bucks were having none of it. The teams exchanged leads 16 times in the third quarter, but Milwaukee went on a 7-0 run late in the fourth quarter and took an 11-point lead. The Nets brought it within eight when Giannis put back his own miss with 1:30 left.

Dagger.

“We weren’t ready for that onslaught... They came with the juice and the energy. They turned our missed shots and turnovers into layups. Giannis was coming at us downhill and at the point, it’s pick your poison,” said Kenny Atkinson.

Atkinson added, “We’re gonna have a huge film session tomorrow on transition defense. It seems like we’ve lost our principles,”

The Nets were led by D’Angelo Russell, who finished the night with 28 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. He also turned the ball over six times. This was Russell’s first-career game with 20+ points and 10+ boards.

Caris LeVert had his best game since returning from injury, and also scored his most points since November 6 at Phoenix. He finished with 24 points and six assists in 30 minutes.

“It was his best game,” Atkinson said of LeVert. “From a confidence level and a physical level, that was the Caris from the beginning of the year. I loved how athletic he looked and how fast he looked.”

Here’s what he thinks...

As a whole, the Nets shot 42 percent from the field, hit 36 percent of their three-pointers and out-rebounded the Bucks by 15. The problem? They turned the ball over 23 times. That isn’t going to win you games, especially against a team like the Bucks.

The Bucks also had a physical advantage that might not show up in the box score.

Harris by the way is shooting 19-of-32 from deep in the last five games. That’s 59.4 percent. In those same five games, Beef Jerky Joe is averaging 18.2 points and nearly six rebounds.

So, it’s going to be a race to the finish with four games left and one game in hand. Weather the storm and they’re in the playoffs. Lose out and fall out. Fate is in their hands. But as Richard Jefferson pointed out on YES, if you can’t win, next best alternative is have everyone else lose. That way, they have one less game to make up space, a big problem this late in the season.

Listen to post-game audio here.

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PLAYOFF RACE

Watch the results for Pistons-Pacers, Magic-Raptors and Heat-Celtics. Pistons, Magic, Nets and Heat are all within one game for the six seed. Nets own the tiebreaker against the Pistons and Magic.

DUDLEY 2019

Jared Dudley is up for Teammate of the Year Award. Given his big impact on this young group, it only seems right he’s up for the award. Also, let’s not discount something like this. We know the Nets appreciate high character players. Dudley has gone above and beyond to show he’s a culture fit.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROOK

Even though he was on the opposing team’s side in Monday’s game, it’s still necessary we wish Brook Lopez a happy birthday. He’s the franchise’s leading scorer and one of the most loyal players the organization has come by. His number will sit in the rafter one day.

TSAI IN THE HOUSE

Joe Tsai and his family was once again at the game. He’s increasingly visible at Nets games. Tsai, who maintains homes in Hong Kong and La Jolla outside San Diego. He was also at the last road game in Philadelphia.

For a different perspective, head on over to Brew Hoop, our Bucks sister site on SB Nation.

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Nets play the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday at Barclays, 7:30 p.m.