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Nets lose to Raptors as playoff hopes begin to dwindle, 115-105

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A potential playoff match-up turned into a potential playoff race meltdown.

With just four games left in the season and one game separating the Nets and the ninth seed, Brooklyn needed a win ... bad. The Nets came up short yet again and lost their fourth game in the last five, 115-105, Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier with Milwaukee on Saturday and Indiana on Sunday, then the season finale against Miami Wednesday.

The Nets trailed by 12 entering the fourth, but got a late mini-run from D’Angelo Russell and the got them within five with 1:24 left in game. It was Russell’s ninth straight point and 18th in the fourth quarter, good enough to make up for his 3-of-12 first half.

But that’s where the problem was: The Nets dug themselves in too deep of a hole and they never climbed out. Serge Ibaka put the Raptors up seven following a put back and Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry finished the game at the free throw line.

It would’ve been another impressive comeback for the Nets, but they continue to struggle to start games. In this one, they trailed 34-22 after the first quarter and that seemed like nothing compared to the past couple of games.

  • Against Milwaukee, they found themselves in a 35-20 hole after one.
  • Against Boston, they shot less than 30 percent from the field and scored just 17 points.
  • Against Philadelphia, they trailed 38-23.

The theme is pretty consistent, as are Russell’s struggles early. He gets hot in the second half of games and the Nets make a comeback, but good teams —that is, playoff games—simply cannot put themselves in these types of situations.

Needless to say, the team goes where Russell goes, but somebody else has to step up. Russell finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists. After him? It was Spencer Dinwiddie with 14 points. Caris LeVert laid a horrid 1-of-9 egg from the field.

Meanwhile for Toronto, Pascal Siakam gave the Nets fits with 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Kawhi Leonard finished with 26 and Ibaka with 23. They shot 42 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. Their size was the biggest threat to Brooklyn, and they finished with 17 offensive rebounds.

Fortunately for the Nets, the Pistons and Heat both lost. The Magic knocked off the Knicks, but the Nets will remain in the playoff picture... for now.

They really need a win and Saturday doesn’t look all too promising. But hey, they’ve surprised us all season, right?

PLAYOFF WATCH

the Nets and Pistons are now tied for seventh (and eighth) seed, a half-game ahead of the Heat and Magic, who are now in ninth (and tenth). The Nets hold a tiebreaker over the Pistons and Magic.

UNDER PRESSURE

Post-game, Jared Dudley, the veteran, Spencer Dinwiddie, the youngster, and D’Angelo Russell, the All-Star, spoke about what things are like this time of year ... and how the Nets must respond...

YOU GET AN EXTENSION, YOU GET AN EXTENSION!

With word from Brian Lewis that Sean Marks is being extended, Nets ownership has now sealed the deal with their key (off-court) free agents. Neither is talking about it and a formal announcement has yet to be made.

For the two of them, it’s a reward for three years of hard work ... and progress.

When Atkinson was hired by the Nets he said, “Brooklyn is basketball.” Now, Brooklyn basketball is defined by the morals and values Atkinson has brought to the Nets. No egos. Team-first. Blue-collar culture. No surprise why his guys battle for him — and vice versa.

They’ve developed a ton of a players and have taken incremental strides in such a short amount of time — from 20 wins; to 28 wins; to currently owning a playoff spot.

Kudos to them. It’s well deserved.

DINWIDDIE KICKS

LI NETS ARE HEADING TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

If you haven’t heard —or seen— by now, Theo Pinson hit a game-winning three-pointer that sent the Long Island Nets to the G League Championship. The Finals will start on April 7 and it’ll be a best-of-three series.

Pinson, who finished second in votes for G League Rookie of the Year, did it with his (Brooklyn) Nets teammates on hand.

Pinson spoke to Michael Grady about the importance of having both sets of teammates on hand for his big moment.

There were more honors Wednesday: Alan Williams, who finished second in the MVP race, was named first team All-G League while Pinson was named second team All-G League and first team All-Rookie.

Aside from the players, there are so many names worth mentioning when talking about the quick evolution of the Long Island Nets. You look at Trajan Langdon, the GM of the team, who helped translate the Brooklyn Nets culture \ to Long Island. His assistant Matt Riccardi, who helped do the same and then some, finding talent and assembling the right group of guys.

Head coach Will Weaver has done a phenomenal job of getting guys to buy into the team-first mentality Brooklyn has. There’s a HUGE difference in the G League.

Guys are looking out for themselves — their careers. Weaver and his staff make sure guys get their shine, but keep the team first. And finally, assistant coaches Ryan Forehan-Kelly and Shaun Fein, both who have made the transition so much easier for two-way players and call-ups such as Pinson, Alan Williams, Dzanan Musa, Mitch Creek and Tahjere McCall

This isn’t just a one-man show or Sean Marks’ ship. A lot of people worked hard for this and it’s nice to see a vision — one that included a ton of hard work — come to fruition.

For another perspective, hang out over at Raptors HQ, our sister sister site on SB Nation.

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The Nets will face the Milwaukee Bucks in Brew Town on Saturday, 5pm ET.