Josh Newman, Field ReporterEighty-one games into an enigmatic regular season, the Nets appear to have reached the point of indifference with the playoffs set to open on Saturday.
The high-water mark of this season-saving post-Jan. 1 turnaround arguably came on April 3 when Mason Plumlee’s block of a LeBron James driving layup gave the Nets an 88-87 win and a season-sweep of the Miami Heat. Since then, the Nets have dropped three of four, have looked like a team that is over the regular season and is ready for the postseason to begin.
The latest proof came on Tuesday evening. With four starters in the lineup in an effort to lock up the No. 5 seed and likely rest everyone on Wednesday in Cleveland, the Nets were instead defeated soundly by the Knicks, 109-98, at Barclays Center.
“The last 3-4 games, when you know the result doesn’t really matter, it always kind of weakens you a little bit,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “You’re playing without much concentration. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just the nature of the end of the season, especially when you’re already in the playoffs. I don’t think we’re trying to lose, but I don’t think we played good enough to win this game tonight.”
“We understand that we’re preparing ourselves for the postseason,” Joe Johnson said. “We understand we have to finish out the regular season first and knowing that we’re still playing for a seed. It’s not set in stone for us yet, so we’ve just gotta keep playing. Going into the postseason, we kind of want to be hitting on all cylinders, so we’re trying to finish this Cleveland game and get a good practice in before we play whoever.”
The indifference that appears to have set in with the regular season stretches beyond just the games and into what seed the Nets will ultimately wind up with. A win on Tuesday would have secured the No. 5 seed, while a win on Wednesday at the Cavaliers will do the same thing. If the Nets lose Wednesday and the Washington Wizards win at the Boston Celtics, the Nets will be the 6-seed.
However it shakes out, the Nets will play either the Toronto Raptors or Chicago Bulls in the first round. Going into Wednesday, the Raptors own the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed thanks to the fact they won the Atlantic Division.
“Fifth, sixth, same thing,” Nets head coach Jason Kidd said nonchalantly. “We’ll play Toronto or Chicago. You play 82 games to get a seed and we’ll be fifth or sixth.”
“Going into the playoffs, you want to start building good habits and tonight was an example of how not to take a step forward,” Paul Pierce said. “We were off our game and that’s not how you want to go into the playoffs. No excuses about it, we have to get better.”
While guys like Johnson and Kirilenko took a less concerned tone, Pierce sounded like a guy who knows what it takes to being playing into June, having been to the NBA Finals twice with the Boston Celtics.
The games might not have mattered much over the last two weeks, but Pierce seems less than thrilled about the direction this team is taking as the regular season comes to a close.
“We should have a sense of urgency right now, it’s about playing well going into the playoffs,” Pierce said. “Yous can’t just turn it on once the playoffs start, you have to start getting good habits going into the playoffs. It’s not like you can just go into the playoffs and be world-beaters. You have to develop that over the course of time and have consistency doing that.”