The Brooklyn Nets will go into Sunday night's game at the Indiana Pacers as winners of 40 games for the first time since the 2013-14 season and may leave Indiana bound for the playoffs for the first time the 2014-15 season.
With Saturday night's 133-128 win in Milwaukee, the Nets improved to 40-40 and went up 1.5 games on the ninth-place Miami Heat, who they will play in their season finale in Brooklyn on Wednesday. If the Heat lose their game on Sunday, scheduled for noon in Toronto, the Nets can clinch their playoff berth with a win over the Pacers.
DUDLEY DELIVERS FOR NETS
Jared Dudley has been a steadying force both on the court and in the locker room for the Nets, even as his time on the court has fluctuated since he started the first 20 games of the season. Dudley picked up a handful of DNPs after returning from a hamstring injury in February, but coach Kenny Atkinson has come to rely on the veteran forward more and more in crunch time over the season's final few weeks.
Saturday's game in Milwaukee may have been Dudley's finest moment of the season. Playing 23 minutes as the Nets went with a small-ball lineup for a huge chunk of the second half, Dudley matched his season-high with 16 points, plus six rebounds and two steals. Dudley shot 4-for-8 overall, 2-for-4 from 3-point range, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
With the Nets up 96-93 in the third quarter, Dudley came up with a steal and then a rebound basket on the transition that followed. He scored Brooklyn's next two points with a pair of free throws, launching a 12-0 run that gave the Nets a 108-93 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Dudley's basket put the Nets up 125-124. He grabbed the defensive rebound after Milwaukee's Sterling Brown missed both of his free throws with the Nets up by three with 1:15 to go, and the final rebound of the game to lock down the final after Khris Middleton's missed three.
FAST START VS. MILWAUKEE
The Nets came up with another big finish in Milwaukee, scoring the final seven points of the game and improving their record for the season to 19-9 in games decided by five points or fewer.
But don't overlook the strong early play, in which the Nets turned the tide of recent trends. Over their last 10 games, the Nets had a net rating of -23.9 in first quarters, outscored by an average of 5.8 points per game.
This time, they took a 34-26 lead on the Bucks and were up by as many as 14 points in in the first half as D'Angelo Russell started off making eight of his first nine shots, including each of his first two 3-point attempts. Brooklyn's starters opened up the second half in a big way as well, outscoring Milwaukee 16-4 to open up the second half.
D'Angelo Russell posted his 13th 20-point double-double of the season and his sixth in the last nine games. In one of the other three games, his 39-point overtime performance in Portland, he had nine rebounds and eight assists. Over those last nine games, Russell is averaging 28.7 points, 8.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game.
CARIS BACK IN STRIDE
After an off-night against Toronto, Caris LeVert resumed his resurgence with 24 points and six assists, making 9-of-12 shots overall and 4-of-5 3-pointers. Over the last six games, LeVert is averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 assists, shooting 47.9 percent overall and 48.1 percent from 3-point range.
ABOUT THE PACERS
The Pacers are headed for a likely first-round playoff matchup with the Celtics, and battling for home-court advantage. They're a game behind fourth-place Boston after Friday night's 117-97 loss to the Celtics. Indiana has been without leading scorer Victor Oladipo since late January, when he was lost for the season with a knee injury. Former Net forward Bojan Bogdanovic averages 18.8 points and shoots 42.4 percent from 3-point range, eighth in the NBA. Indiana's scoring depth is in the frontcourt. Domantas Sabonis averages 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds and Myles Turner averages 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.7 blocks. Another former Net, Thaddeus Young, averages 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds. Bogdanovic, Sabonis, Turner and Young all shoot at least 48 percent from the field, fueling Indiana's overall field goal percentage of 47.5, which is fourth in the league. The Pacers are also fifth in 3-point percentage (37.4). The Pacers are third in the NBA in defensive rating (105.6).