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Brooklyn Nets defeat Orlando Magic 101-84, clinch playoff spot

The Brooklyn Nets have clinched a spot in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

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NBA: Orlando Magic at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Well, technically, the Brooklyn Nets’ victory over the Orlando Magic had little to do with finally securing the Eastern conference’s six-seed to avoid the dreaded play-in tournament. The Miami Heat took care of that for Brooklyn, losing to the Washington Wizards about half-an-hour before Brooklyn wrapped up their comfortable home win.

Neither Florida team really threatened Brooklyn on Friday night. The Heat seemingly accepted their play-in fate hours before their tip-off, deciding to rest a majority of their key rotation players. The Magic, despite having nothing to play for, did something similar, ruling out presumptive Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, as well as their first and second-string centers. 1, 2, 3, Cancún!

It appeared that the Magic fell right into the sweet-spot of late-season malaise for Brooklyn: They rested considerable talent, but not so much to the point where they were playing a team of fringe NBA players going all-out to prove themselves. No, the Nets were facing off with a team harboring major 3-p.m.-on-a-Friday vibes.

Some minor hiccups notwithstanding, including a slow start and a premature nap in the fourth quarter, Brooklyn handled it, winning _____. Just one more meaningless game stands between the Nets and a first-round date with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Prior to the game, head coach Jacque Vaughn claimed the most important challenge facing the Nets on Friday was for “our group to play four quarters. Like, we haven’t put four aggressive, in sync quarters together yet. So, great challenge for us to try and do it tonight.”

At first, it looked like Brooklyn would start 0-for-1 on that challenge, stooping to Orlando’s energy level, rather than exceeding it. The two teams scored a total of 17 points in the first six minutes of the game, and what was supposed to be a Friday night party at the Barclays Center seemed poised to turn sleepy.

The Nets picked it up before long, though, mainly thanks to Spencer Dinwiddie initiating effective offense, picking up six assists in the first quarter, including this dime to Nic Claxton:

Dinwiddie displayed such playmaking craft all night long, finishing with an eye-popping 14 assists, including three successful lobs to Claxton. Although, at this point, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by anything less than 20 dimes - his performance against Orlando pushed him over the nine-assist-per-game mark since his trade back to Brooklyn. It also pushed the Nets to a 27-23 lead after the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Brooklyn extended their lead with defense, though the Magic certainly helped them in that regard. 14 first-half turnovers helped the Nets to a game-high 24-point lead midway through the second quarter, though many of those Magic errors were unforced: sky-high lobs, offensive miscommunications, bowled pocket passes. Brooklyn did not so much take control of this game as they did accept it.

Offensively, the Nets built a lead inside the arc and in transition, finishing the first 24 minutes with 11 fast break points and shooting 62% from two-point land. Even if Brooklyn had shot league-average from deep, this one could have been an historic blowout. Alas, they didn’t, making just six of their 25 long-range attempts in the first half. Things didn’t improve much as the game went on; the Nets finished a ghastly 21.4% from deep.

Somehow, that effort outdid Orlando’s. The 58-39 lead that the Nets took into halftime was never seriously threatened once play resumed, much credit due to the 18.4% the Magic shot on threes. The total second-half score was 45-43, Orlando: an offensive snooze-fest if there ever was one, save for Royce O’Neale’s best efforts to keep the crowd alive (or, awake):

The regression in accuracy for Mikal Bridges continued; he shot 7-of-24 from the field, including 1-of-12 from three. Over his last four games, Bridges has shooting splits of 37/17/83, all well under his numbers in Brooklyn, 48/40/90. Still, he’s averaging 26.7 points over those four games.

However, his 22 points was solid enough to lead Brooklyn in scoring. Behind him was a balanced scoring attack: Cam Johnson had 18, Nic Claxton put up a sturdy 14 & 15 double-double, and Seth Curry, the only Net who could shoot on Friday (3-4 from deep), had 13 points off the bench.

Meanwhile, Orlando never got too close in the second half, save for a brief run to cut the Brooklyn lead to 10 midway through the fourth quarter, after a spell of especially cold shooting and general from the Nets. Brooklyn’s mood, though, never turned to anxiety, but rather annoyance that they couldn’t put this one to bed early.

What was Jacque Vaughn’s message to the group at that point? “Don’t look ahead. Don’t look towards tomorrow. Just be present and we ended up getting some stops.”

They certainly did. Brooklyn responded with an immediate 14-3 run that ballooned their lead to 99-78 and, thankfully, that was all she wrote.

There certainly have been flashier, more ecstatic playoff-clinchers Nets history, but the current squad will take this one regardless of the circumstances. No, the Orlando Magic didn’t put up much of a fight, and the Miami Heat lost anyway, but the Nets handled just enough of their business.

While Jacque Vaughn declined to say that his team played four complete quarters, admitting that their positive play came only in “stretches” on Friday night, he was in a celebratory mood, post-game: “I’m extremely proud of this group. Just the way were able to stay together the entire year and create our own narrative, create our own story...we did it in a very competitive and collective way as a group, as a team. And hopefully the borough of Brooklyn is proud to have this group represent them in the playoffs.”

Mikal Bridges largely echoed that message, post-game: “Man, it’s dope, it’s great. Just, it was tough, especially in the beginning. A lot of people new and trying to learn concepts and figure out, you know, our rotation and what to do out there on the court together. So it was definitely tough for a while, but finally clicking and finally figuring out what we can do out there was dope man. Just happy to be in this position.”

Friday’s victory was a microcosm of these Brooklyn Nets. It hasn’t always been pretty, or even extremely fun. But why would any fan, coach, executive, or player focus on the negative, or on the past in general? A win was a win, this season is what it is, so too is that era of Brooklyn basketball. All of it led to a berth in the 2023 NBA playoffs, where the six-seed Nets will take on the three-seed 76ers in the first round, which was pretty fun when it happened four springs prior, right?

Take your blessings as they come.

Milestone Watch

  • Playoff edition! The Nets are one of just five teams to secure a playoff spot in each of the last five seasons (2018-23), joining Boston, Denver, Milwaukee & Philadelphia.
  • This is the Nets’ eighth playoff appearance in 11 seasons in Brooklyn (most in any 11-season stretch in their NBA history). So, strictly from an on-court perspective, is the move to the borough a success?
  • The 14 steals the Nets recorded in their playoff-clinching win marked a season-high. Cam Johnson led the way with a career-high-tying four thefts.
  • The 62 points the Magic scored through three quarters are tied for the fewest surrendered by Brooklyn through three quarters this season (also: 3/5 vs. Charlotte).
  • Bridges played 37 minutes vs. Orlando, putting him another 37 minutes under 3,000 an accomplishment that’s happened only 51 times in NBA history.
  • The Nets are now 14-16 without their two superstars. They were 31-20 the day Kyrie Irving asked for a trade and are now 45-36. The Nets 45 wins are one more than they won last season and their playoff seed, at six, is one better than than the 2021-22 Nets.

Scoreboard Watch

Not every Net experienced the true playoff-clinching moment, Washington sealing a win over Miami, the same way.

Spencer Dinwiddie, for example, didn’t even need to hear the announcement over the Barclays Center PA system, which occurred during the fourth quarter of the Brooklyn-Orlando game: “Listen bruh, I knew the score of the Heat game. It was right there. I don’t know if you noticed when they got up about 15, 17 with three minutes to go, my level of intensity dropped a little bit. That’s why JV was mad at me.”

Joe Harris may have shared his head coach’s frustration after the announcement: “I was still hoping that we just played better tonight, to be honest”

Mikal Bridges, as usual, took the buttoned-up approach: “I didn’t even know [the Heat] were playing tonight, honestly. I just knew we could control our destiny and were trying to win the game. If I did know they were playing, if I did realize that, I probably would have been looking at the score, looking over there as well. But yeah, I didn’t even know.”

Sure, Mikal.

Birthday Watch

Spencer Dinwiddie turned the big 3-0 on Brooklyn’s off-day on Thursday! (April 6th, for anyone looking to add the date to their calendar for next year.) While at the free-throw line in the first half, “Happy Birthday” chants echoed throughout the arena.

Post-game, he was asked about his birthday wish coming true, the Nets clinching the six-seed: “As for tonight, I’ll have a nice bottle of wine, folks.”

Pushed further, Dinwiddie clarified that it’ll be a bottle of red, but added “Honestly, I’m probably going to get into white wine just for some fish pairings and just in general because I’m giving up tequila and it’s tough. Listen man, it’s going to be different now.”

Father Time catches up with us all, even the world’s best athletes.

Roster Watch

Prior to Friday’s festivities, Jacque Vaughn was asked about Brooklyn’s recent roster moves, which saw the team convert David Duke Jr. to a standard deal (graduating from two-way status) after declining to extend Moses Brown.

Vaughn addressed both decisions, keeping it simple when explaining the team’s decision on Brown: “With Moses, I think the biggest thing is he wasn’t going to qualify for the playoffs. And so then, you just have an empty body.”

On a more positive note, Vaughn spoke highly of Duke Jr., now finishing up his second professional season out of Providence: “He knows our terminology, he knows our plays already. He’s been put in the game before and could easily adapt to being put in the game going forward. So, rewarding for the work that he’s put in. He’s a diligent worker, he’s a part of our program and the system, so glad to have him on the roster spot.”

What’s Next?

The Brooklyn Nets will play host to the Philadelphia 76ers in their final home game of the regular season. We’ve got an early tip, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon.

Don’t expect it to be a true barn-burner, with these teams locked into a playoff matchup in just a week’s time: “I don’t think either team is going to put any new plays that they’ll use in a series in for sure. We’ll be pretty bland, but we do what we do. And we’ll play hard when we get the opportunity to play them in a series. We’ll keep it that simple,” said Jacque Vaughn.

Spencer Dinwiddie, of course, kept it just a tad realer: “Man, ain’t nobody gonna be playing, bruh. Let’s be real, even if we played on our side, they're not gonna play. [Vaughn] can’t say that; he’s a coach. He’s gotta be all by-the-book and stuff.”

Just something to keep in mind, from Brooklyn’s starting point guard, if you were planning on buying tickets for that affair.

For another perspective on Friday night’s win over the Orlando Magic, visit our sister site, Orlando Pinstriped Post.