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Nets move on to Indiana with playoffs in sight

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Breathe in for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds. Breathe in, breathe out. Okay, one more time now. Phew. The Nets pulled out a win against Milwaukee on Saturday night, keeping their playoff hopes alive as we head towards the final two games of the season. The race for the last few playoff seeds in the East is unfathomably tight, and could end up being determined by tiebreakers and division winners (annoying) and the Nets grabbing that win might prove to be all they needed to stay in the race. As I mentioned, just two games are left, one of which will be against the Pacers in Indiana on Sunday for a back-to-back and the finale in Brooklyn on Wednesday in Brooklyn against Miami in a game that might be massively important for both teams ... or not. We’ll see. For now, the Nets will focus on getting an improbable but not impossible win in Indiana to see if they can’t get above .500 record for the season. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

YES Network, NBA TV, WFAN 660 at 5pm, ET.

Injuries

Allen Crabbe (knee) is out. The G League contingent will be in Stony Brook for Game 1 of the G League Finals vs. the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Forgot that, didn’t you?

Victor Oladipo (quadricep) is out and Darren Collison (groin) is day-to-day. Nate McMillan of the Pacers said he doesn’t intend to rest anyone. He didn’t dismiss the possibility that he’d limit some players’ minutes.

The Game

The Pacers have been mind-blowingly impressive this season, mostly due to their sustained excellence in the face of the Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury. Kind of like how the Nets were able to make a playoff push after the LeVert injury. Two teams who play hard and together as a cohesive unit in order to overcome their lack of a superstar. Fun stuff! The Pacers, however, are a little more veteran than the young Nets, and have enough talent to currently be the fifth seed in the East after sitting at four for much of the year.

Since the Oladipo injury, former Net legend Bojan Bogdanovic has stepped up in his place, scoring 20.9 points per game on 50/40/80 shooting. This has easily been his best season in the NBA. Not only is he a focal point and lead scorer on a playoff team, but also becoming a leader in the absence of his teams best player. Bojan is a free agent at the end of the season, and at 29 years old he will certainly be looking for one last big cashout before he exits his prime. He’s clearly shown hes a playoff-starter caliber player right now, and hopefully some teams are going to recognize that (unlike the Wizards). Especially in a year where a bunch of franchises are going to swing and miss at the big names.

The Pacers’ offense as a whole hasn’t been great lately though, scoring just 104.6 points per game since March 1st, second-worst in the league ahead of only the Knicks. The Nets, in that same span, are 15th in the league with 111.9 points per game. Not bad considering the Nets have looked stagnant and frustrated on the offensive side of the court for large stretches over the last month or so. They’ve been able to keep their heads above the water for the most part, but against a team like the Pacers they’re going to have to bring a little extra something to the table.

The fact that Jarrett Allen, while often being the Nets first line of defense against big men and last line of defense against guards, is able to foul just 2.3 times per game and 3.2 times per 36 minutes is amazing. Sometimes a big part of defense, especially for centers, is just the ability to not foul. Foul shots are free points, and and-ones are even worse, which is why the Nets make a concerted effort to get them on the other end of the court. This is relevant against a team like the Pacers, who employ Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who both take a healthy diet of shots in the paint. Sabonis comes off the bench and Turner starts, but together they average 27.5 points and 16.3 rebounds. Sabonis shoots almost 60% from the floor but has very little range, while Turner can hit shots from three at a decent 38% clip. Together they make for a versatile and dangerous duo.

Spencer Dinwiddie has not been great lately, shooting under 40% from the field and under 20% from three in his last eight games, and if the Nets want to not only make the playoffs but also make some noise after they get there, Spencer is going to have to return to his sixth man self. The Nets struggle to score enough as it is, and Spencer is their undisputed #2 guy on offense. It’s possible some lingering issues from his injury are still in effect, but it is also possible he’s just slumping. Not a great time for it, hopefully he can bounce back as the season comes to a finish.

Player to Watch

Wesley Matthews returned from injury the other night to play the Celtics, scoring 10 points in 21 minutes of action. The Pacers are the third team Matthews has been on this season, starting on the Mavs and then being shipped off to New York in the Porzingis deal only to then be waived so he could sign with the Pacers. Once known as an effective 3-and-D guy, Matthews has lost a couple of steps due to injury. He’s averaging 11.3 points on 38/37/85 shooting during his time in Indiana and isn’t really a threat to have a gigantic game, but he can make some plays and hit some big shots on the night.

Playoff Watch

The Nets enter Sunday’s game as the six seed. They’re tied at 40-40 with the Magic, but Brooklyn holds the tiebreaker. In eighth, a half game back, are the Pistons (39-40) and just outside the playoffs are the Heat (38-42), two back. The Hornets (37-42) are two and a half behind the Nets.

Scoreboard watching? The big game is Heat at the Raptors, which begins at noon and will be over by the time the Nets take the court in Indianapolis. Also, the Pistons play the Hornets in Detroit, which begins an hour before the Nets-Pacers.

In short, if the Heat lose and the Nets win, they’re in.

From The Vault

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Indy Cornrows, our Pacers sister site on SB Nation.