One game remaining and one game the Nets really need to win.
Although claiming to not worry about standings or scoreboards around the league for the entirety of April, the Nets certainly played close attention to the final scoreboard at Fiserv Forum Saturday night.
Brooklyn heads into the regular-season finale against the slumping Cavaliers — who are 1-9 in their last 10 — Sunday with their sights set on locking up the second seed in the East. Steve Nash said it best; it’s a game Brooklyn definitely wants to win.
“We just have one game to win and we control our own destiny as far as the second spot,” said Nash following the Nets 105-91 victory over the Bulls Saturday. “We think that’s positive and we can win that game much better than not being the second seed. It’s a little advantage we can create and it just comes down to concentration, effort and trying to close this deal tomorrow. We definitely want it, we’re here and we’ll see what happens tonight with the scores, but tomorrow we’ll be prepared to come out and win a ball game.”
The charging Bucks took care of business Saturday night, defeating the Jimmy Butler-less Heat, 122-108, in a potential first-round series to hold a slim chance of reaching the second seed, but unlike the Nets their destiny isn’t solely in their hands.
Milwaukee (46-25) will need to win at Chicago Sunday while Brooklyn (47-24) needs to lose to Cleveland (22-49) to secure the No. 2 seed heading into the postseason.
For Brooklyn, it’s simple. Win Sunday night and the second seed belongs to them. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait to see who wins the Bucks-Bulls match-up. The Bucks won the tiebreaker after sweeping the two-game mini-series on May 2 and May 4. While Brooklyn holds leverage, the team will have a full house - playing their ‘Big Three’ of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, along with Blake Griffin.
“We’ll consider it, but it’s just a matter of how they come through. How they feel in the morning and are they available, but if we need that win tomorrow, we’re not adverse to those guys playing in tomorrow as well,” said Nash on the possibility the ‘Big Three’ plays tomorrow against Cleveland.
Brooklyn has been very cautious in playing their key players in second-legs of back-to-backs throughout this season with the end goal of being healthy for when the games really matter.
The Nets did play both Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin in their latest back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday. To dive deeper, James Harden — who had a quiet Saturday afternoon with five points on only four attempted shots in the win in 25 minutes — has only two games under his belt since returning from the longest injury absence of his career. After all, he missed the previous 18 games and 20 of the last 21 contests. Previously, he had never missed more than seven games in his career.
Durant, who struggled with his shot in Saturday win — 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from deep — and will play Sunday against the Cavs made it known that he has every intention to put the uniform on and play Sunday speaking from his competitive nature.
“I expect to play. We want to finish the season off, so I’m sure we’re all looking at that game and seeing what happens. Just for rhythm and just to get back on the court again I want to play, but we’ll see what happens [Saturday night],” said Durant on playing Sunday against Cleveland. “I trust the coaches and training staff to make the right decision but as a basketball player, I definitely want to be out there regardless.”
Beyond the “Big Three” and their respective availabilities for Sunday — they’ve still only played eight games together, Brooklyn will be without their most reliable player throughout the 2020-21 season. Joe Harris (left gluteal strain) will miss his third straight game Sunday after playing in all the Nets' previous 69 games.
“Yeah, he had imaging and has a slight strain, so he’s going to be out this weekend,” said Nash on Harris. “But we expect he’ll make a full recovery for the playoffs.”
Cleveland, who has nothing to gain or nothing to lose, has had the upper edge on Brooklyn this season, winning both of their two meetings. While the Cavaliers look for a season-sweep against an East powerhouse, the team will be playing with the motivation of pride, Jarrett Allen looking for a revenge game and with the intention of shaking up the Eastern Conference standings in the regular-season finale. If they can conclude their woeful season with one of their biggest accomplishments in their 2020-21 campaign, it’d be a big help heading home.