Playoff Fever Comes Early as Nets Beat Hornets, 91-88, in Dramatic Fashion

CHARLOTTE – The playoffs are still a few weeks away. Really?!?Tell that to the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets.

In a riveting game Wednesday night that had every fan in Time Warner Cable Arena standing, and every Nets fan watching at home on the edge of his or her seat, the Nets pulled out a crucial 91-88 win that could mean the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

This was playoff basketball. The game featured nine ties, including four in the final three and a half minutes. The Nets were 10 of 11 from the line, including 6 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

The Nets (30-40) are now tied with the Hornets (30-40) and own the tiebreaker over Charlotte. They are a half game behind the Celtics (31-40), who lost to the Miami Heat, and the Pacers (31-40), who edged the Washington Wizards, for the final playoff spot.

Brooklyn’s playoff future is likely to come down to the final home game against the Orlando Magic on April 15, but the Nets probably wouldn’t be in the picture if not for their remarkably resilient performance in Charlotte.

The Nets had to play the entire fourth quarter, and the final 4:58 of the third, without Thaddeus Young, who suffered a hyperextended left knee. The Nets already have lost Sergey Karasev (knee) and Mirza Teletovic (blood clots) for the season.

But the Nets got another dominating performance from Brook Lopez. Lopez scored 34 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and made his biggest play with 3.2 seconds left.

The Hornets had the ball out of bounds under their basket after a deflection off Deron Williams gave them possession. Charlotte was looking to inbound for a potential game-winning three-point shot attempt.

But the 7-foot Lopez deflected Gerald Henderson’s inbounds pass. The final seconds expired without Charlotte getting a shot.

Williams added 10 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds. Alan Anderson had 13 points, three rebounds and completely took Lance Stephenson (1-for-8 shooting) out of the game.

KEY PLAY I: The Hornets had one last chance to tie the game. Coach Lionel Hollins wisely had the 7-foot Lopez defend the inbounds passer. The 6-5 Henderson couldn’t get the pass over Lopez.

KEY PLAY II: With 4:58 left in the third quarter, Thaddeus Young stepped on Gerald Henderson’s foot and crumpled to the floor. The entire Nets' bench came out to check on Young, who joined the team at the trade deadline; x-rays were negative. Young was diagnosed with a hyperextended left knee. He will be evaluated on Thursday.

"I’m definitely going to try to get back on the court as soon as possible,’’ said Young.

KEY STRETCH: The Nets led 74-66 with about seven and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But they went cold, going 2 for 8. The Hornets rallied, setting up a thrilling final 7:28.

KEY STAT: The Nets were beautiful on offense at times, scoring 39 field goals off 28 assists.

NETS GAINS: Lopez has been as dominant a player as there has been in the league of late. He is the first player since LeBron James in 2013 to score 26 or more points and shoot 60 percent or better from the field in four straight games.

"His touch right now around the basket is off the charts,’’ said Deron Williams.

TALK: Williams on Lopez: "He’s doing everything on both ends of the floor. He’s asserting himself. He’s being aggressive. He’s just playing so well right now.’’