3/23 Game Preview: Celtics at Nets
Although their playoff chances didn't look good less than two weeks ago, the resilient Brooklyn Nets have played themselves back into contention in the Eastern Conference.
If things continue to play out in their favor Monday night, the Nets could end up tied for the final spot in the East by dealing the visiting Boston Celtics their longest losing streak since late December.
Brooklyn had been left for dead in the playoff hunt after a five-game skid dropped it 3 1/2 games out of eighth place in the weak East on March 11. The Nets, however, have since won four of five to revive their hopes.
Following Saturday's 123-111 win at Indiana, the Nets (25-38) moved a bit closer Sunday when Boston suffered a 105-97 overtime loss to visiting Detroit. They now have a chance to draw even with eighth-place Charlotte with a win and if Indiana loses at home against Houston and the Hornets fall in Chicago on Monday.
"We're running out of games, so they're all important," coach Lionel Hollins said. "You want to win every game."
Brook Lopez has been leading the charge, including 26 points and four blocks Saturday. Bojan Bogdanovic added 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting and Brooklyn hit a season-high 61.3 percent against one of the league's top defensive clubs.
"We controlled the game from the first minute to the last minute," said Bogdanovic, who has scored 17.8 per game in his past four. "We're going to have to continue to do stuff if we're going to make the playoffs."
Lopez also put up 32 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in Friday's 129-127 triple-overtime win over visiting Milwaukee. The veteran center is averaging 18.0 points and 10.1 boards while shooting 54.7 percent over his last nine games. However, he's totaled 14 points and six rebounds in his two matchups with Boston (30-39) this season.
The Celtics were tied for seventh in the East after a five-game winning streak, but they've fallen out of position after struggling defensively in Wednesday's 122-118 loss at Oklahoma City and shooting 37.8 percent in their past two defeats.
"These are the ones that hurt," Jae Crowder said after scoring 19 on Sunday. "We have to have these games."
Boston hasn't dropped four in a row since Dec. 21-27. The Nets handed the Celtics one of those losses Dec. 26 when Jarrett Jack had 27 points and made a jumper in the lane with 28 seconds left in a 109-107 road victory.
Joe Johnson, who scored 14 on Saturday, has totaled 44 points in his last two against the Celtics at Barclays Center.
Avery Bradley scored 21 and Tyler Zeller had 18 points to help Boston take a 2-1 lead in the season series with an 89-81 victory in Brooklyn on Jan. 7. They also rolled to a 121-105 home win in the season opener for both clubs Oct. 29.
Bradley has been a difficult matchup, averaging 20.6 points and hitting 14 of 28 from long range in his last five meetings.
Marcus Smart will be back after serving his one-game suspension for punching San Antonio's Matt Bonner in the groin Friday. Smart had scored 15.3 per game while hitting 10 of 18 3-point attempts over the previous three.
Isaiah Thomas, averaging 21.4 points in 10 games with Boston, isn't ready to return from a bruised lower back.