After weeks of uncertainty down the home stretch of the regular season, the Brooklyn Nets finally have clarity on what their first steps of their post-season journey will look like.
It’s on to the Play-In Tournament.
Brooklyn finished off the regular season on a four-game win streak and winning 12 of their last 17 games Sunday, officially and finally clinching the 7-seed in the East. The team is slated to host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, April 12. The contest will be nationally televised on TNT with a tipoff time of 7:00 p.m. ET. (No coverage on YES. The national rights holders have an exclusive.)
“The regular season has gotten us prepared for this time. It’s about resting on what we’ve learned throughout the year, resting on who you are as a player, and just playing free mentally,” Kevin Durant said. “I think that’s what all the best teams do around this time is lean what you’ve been working on all season. We’re looking forward to this opportunity. It’s the first step for us to get into the playoffs. We got to take care of business.”
The Nets have the luxury of needing only one win to secure a playoff berth. If that comes Tuesday, Brooklyn is the 7-seed and will face the Boston Celtics. If the Nets drop that contest, the team will face a win-or-go-home game against the winner of the 9/10 Play-In game (Charlotte Hornets vs. Atlanta Hawks) on April 15 for the 8-seed.
“Let’s get it on,” Kyrie Irving said. “This is a special time in the year, going against a team such as the Cavaliers is something to look forward to. Something to go home, think about all the possessions that happened the other night, learn from them, and take what you can into Tuesday because they’re going to make adjustments, we’re going to make adjustments, and it’s going to be an all-out battle.”
It will be the first time both Durant and Irving will participate in the Play-In Tournament — a tournament that was introduced last season. It is also unfamiliar territory for the Nets as a franchise.
“Just go play. Can’t put too much pressure on yourself. You understand how important the [Play-In] game is already. The best thing to do is just play free, stick to the game plan, and trust your teammates,” said Durant on approaching Tuesday’s Play-In Matchup. “That’s usually how you approach these games. We’ll see what happens.”
It’s safe to say both the Nets and Cavaliers know quite a lot about each other. Brooklyn hosted the Cleveland on Friday to gain the tiebreaker in the standings. The Nets got it done in typical Nets fashion, blowing a 17-point lead and making the win tougher than it needed to be. Overall, Brooklyn ripped off a 3-1 season series advantage against their play-in opponent.
It can be a blessing or a cure for both the Nets and the Cavaliers to have played each other less than a week ago. The teams are familiar with each other’s schemes, how they like to play, and more importantly, what adjustments can be coming Tuesday night.
“Helpful for both teams I would imagine. I’m not sure what advantage it is. It’s the same scenario for both teams,” said Steve Nash on playing the Cavaliers recently ahead of their play-in matchup. “It’s whoever plays better wins.”
In previous seasons, both the 7-seed and the 8-seed would automatically clinch playoff berths at the end of the regular season. Last season, there were many players that expressed negative opinions on the play-in, most notably LeBron James. Brooklyn’s superstar duo has no problem with it.
“I really didn’t have any thoughts about it, to be honest. It is what it is,” Durant said. “Getting two teams an opportunity for the spot, it’s cool. Fans like it. No complaints from me.”
“Well No. 1, I think somebody is in the backroom ‘hip-hip hoorayin’ about the play-in tournament. Last year you get Steph and LeBron. This year you get me and KD, going against the Cavs in the play-in game,” Irving said. “In the West, Minnesota and the Clippers. I guess someone in the backroom is saying this works.”
From Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis last season to Durant, Irving, Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns, and company this year, the play-in tournament has been a success in the eyes of the fans and the league. In Durant’s opinion, as long as the second-year tournament produces good action on the hardwood, he believes it’s good for the game.
“It depends how the games are. The format of the playoffs and all that stuff don’t really matter. It’s about the product on the court and the players on the floor,” Durant said. “I’m sure there will be some good basketball out there with the talent we have in this league.”
Although Brooklyn has had their fair share of must-win games in the regular season, the team will get their first real look at a serious must-win game Tuesday night with all eyes on them. And their stars know it better than anyone else.
“As a competitor, it feels like one of those Game 6s, Game 5s, Game 7s, where it’s a must-win,” Irving said. “You know that the ball is going to be tipped and it’s not really going to depend on anything other than will, skill, how they’ll prepare, physicality, how well you know the other team’s offensive schemes, and really paying attention to the possessions in three-minute spurts. The other team is going to go on runs and you just got to be prepared to really withstand it.
“You just don’t know what could happen in games like that. You just got to prepare for anything that can happen and really come in with a fearless attitude going against another great team. I’m looking forward to it. Let’s get it on.”
The health situation remains unchanged at least for now. Despite all the optimism Sunday, Ben Simmons will not be playing for the Nets but Seth Curry is likely back. The Cavs’ MVP, Jarrett Allen, remains out for Cleveland with a fractured finger.