Nets Come Back to Brooklyn With Playoff Berth in Hand
With clinching complete thanks to Sunday's win, Nets prep for Heat in finale
The Nets were back in Brooklyn Tuesday for what coach Kenny Atkinson described as a "short little intense practice," going into Wednesday's regular season finale against the Miami Heat.
That game has become a little anti-climactic, for the best of reasons. With Sunday night's win in Indiana, the Nets clinched their first playoff berth since 2015, and their first .500 season since 2014. When they hit the road last Friday for a weekend back-to-back against the Bucks and Pacers, the battle for the Eastern Conference's final three playoff berths was getting crowded with a late surge from the Charlotte Hornets.
But losses by the Heat on Friday and Sunday gave the Nets the opportunity to clinch their playoff berth over the weekend rather than facing off against Miami in the final game with the playoffs on the line. They seized by closing out the Bucks in the final minutes on Saturday, then going almost wire-to-wire against the Pacers on Sunday.
“To be honest it is a big moment for us and a big moment for the organization, from where we’ve come from in the last couple of years, the improvement that we’ve had individually and collectively," said Nets guard Joe Harris. "Just to clinch a playoff spot, it’s a big moment for the organization for sure, and we’re all very happy. But at the same time we still have Miami left to finish out the year the right way, and we still want to make some noise in the playoffs and make it competitive.”
Harris is one of four Nets remaining from Atkinson's first season in 2016-17, along with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert. They won 20 games that season, enduring a brutal two-month stretch in the middle of the year. Now they're part of a transformed group that has won twice as many games.
"I think, and with the staff that's been here since the beginning, I think it's a little bit special," said Atkinson. "Going through that season and now being a playoff team, there's a special bond there, there's no doubt about it. It's kind of a testament to all we've been through and all the hard work we've put it in. Definitely a different feel. There's a bond there with the people that have been here from the beginning."
The challenges didn't end back in 2017. This year's team was 10 games below .500 six weeks into the season, adjusting to the three-month absence of LeVert after his fantastic start to the year. LeVert wasn't the only player to go down for a spell, but Atkinson got contributions from every corner of the roster.
They overcame one last obstacle, the brutal 13-game closing stretch that began with a seven-game road trip, and earned their way into the postseason.
"We kind of went through the ringer," said Atkinson. "I think it made us mentally stronger. I know it made me mentally stronger. I definitely feel more prepared. I feel like we can handle kind of any changes, any quick change in the situation. That's what the playoffs are about; adjustments and handling different situations."
After Wednesday night's game against the Heat, the Nets will find out whether Toronto or Philadelphia is on tap for the playoffs.
"We’re not done yet," said Harris. "Obviously we’re excited to be in the playoffs but by no means are we satisfied with just making it into the playoffs. Regardless of whether we play against Toronto or Philadelphia, we’ve had competitive battles with them, each team, this entire season. And yeah, we know the playoffs are going to be a little bit different, but we’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity.”
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