Brooklyn Nets Shift Into Playoff Mode

With Sunday night’s win over Cleveland, the Brooklyn Nets locked up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

Now, they’ll wait. They’ll wait to see who claims the No. 7 seed and a first-round date with the Nets. And they’ll wait until next weekend to begin their playoff run, with at least a full five days between that playoff opener and their regular season finale.

“It is a little weird that we’re waiting a whole week, for whoever ends up in one and two, trying to figure out who you’re gonna be playing, but it also creates a sort of excitement with the play-in games for the fans,” said Jeff Green. “So I’ll be tuned in regardless of where we end up at because I am a fan of basketball and I think it’s gonna be fun to watch. But I mean, you just have to prepare the best you can by staying in a good rhythm, staying in shape, focusing in on what you need to do to help your team gain success in the playoffs. So it’ll be a fun week, entertaining week, but I’m looking forward to it.”

In an NBA season that���s already run a unique course, the addition of the play-in tournament adds a new wrinkle to the final stretch. The seventh through 10th place teams in each conference will play for the final two playoff seeds, with the winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game earning the seventh seed and the winner of a matchup between the loser of that game and the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game claiming the No. 8 seed.

“I think it’s great. It makes everyone play hard until the end more or less – or more teams,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “You have teams that are trying to get into the play in. You have teams trying to avoid the play in. You have home court. You have all these different things going on and I think it keeps it more competitive than otherwise, so I’m a fan of it. I’ll watch it and the week off, it is what it is. I think as exchange for having the play in tournament and making so many more games meaningful, I think it’s all worthwhile.”

For the Nets, that means they’ll get the winner of Tuesday night’s game between the Celtics and the Wizards in the first round.

Brooklyn closed the regular season just getting its pieces back together. James Harden returned from a hamstring strain to play two games before being held out of the final game on Sunday. He was sidelined in early April, right when Kevin Durant returned after missing nearly two months. Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving played just eight games together this season. Blake Griffin, signed in March, didn’t play a game with all three until the final weekend of the regular season. Joe Harris missed the final three games, meaning those five — a potential starting lineup for the Nets in Game 1 of the playoffs — have yet to play a minute together. The same is true if you slot Nic Claxton in for Griffin.

“The reality for our team is that we, everything is so new, we’ve had so little time together,” said Nash. “Probably two of our better lineups have never played together. We have to have the mindset that we’ve got to improve forever more throughout the season. We’re not a team that’s running it back for year three, four, five, that’s gonna rely on our past experiences. We’re a team that’s gotta build while we’re trying to win. That is our gap and our challenge.”

So with this unprecedented pre-playoff flexibility, the Nets have an opportunity to get some court time together, but Nash also wants to be cautious.

“You can’t overtax the players in that week,” said Nash. “It is a chance coming out of a waterlogged schedule for them to recover and regenerate. So, we will definitely practice and play live at some point or two during the week. But it will be a lot more of learning, cohesion, and from an understanding what we want to do, who we’re playing against, scouting reports, all that stuff. So, there will be a day or two where there is some live action, but the rest of the time will be learning, reviewing, refining and preparing for the first round and that opponent.”

However the Nets chart the week, they’ll be shifting into playoff mode as they go. If it’s unfamiliar territory as a group, there’s a wealth of individual experience and success. Some of that has come in smaller pairings.

Durant has played in 139 playoff games and four NBA Finals, winning two titles and NBA Finals MVP awards. He and Harden went to the Finals together with Oklahoma City in 2012 and Harden has 128 playoff games on his resume.

Irving has played in 61 playoff games and three NBA Finals, winning a title with Cleveland in 2016. DeAndre Jordan has played in 57 playoff games and Blake Griffin in 53, many of them together with the LA Clippers. Jeff Green played with Durant and Harden in Oklahoma City — and with Harden in Houston last season — and with Griffin and Jordan in LA and has played in 72 playoff games, including a 2018 NBA Finals trip with Cleveland.

“I think our mentality is that it’s winning time,” said Harden. “At this point, it’s whatever it takes. We have shotmaking. If one of us isn’t making shots, we have more than enough guys to make shots. I think what we haver to think about constantly, every single possession, is defense and rebounding the ball, limiting teams to one shot. That has to be our mindset, and it will be our mindset. If we can just get that in our head every possession, offense is going to be easy because we’ve got so many guys that are shotmakers or finishers. They’re very unselfish and we know who we are and what we bring to the table. So that will give us a week to just kind of go over things that we need to go over and get our mind right.”