Nets look to maintain playoff push vs. improving Cavs
Three straight ugly losses put the Brooklyn Nets in danger of losing their grip on a playoff spot, especially with a challenging schedule looming.
One dominant performance helped stabilize things, and the Nets hope to produce a similar showing Wednesday night when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Brooklyn was thoroughly outplayed in home losses to Washington and Charlotte before enduring its most lopsided loss of the season Saturday night in Miami.
On Monday, the Nets responded nicely by dominating all facets of a 127-88 rout over the Dallas Mavericks. The Nets took control late in the first quarter, led by double digits most of the game and dominated in the paint (56-22) and in rebounding (48-36).
"It felt good," Nets guard D'Angelo Russell said. "It felt great. How we competed, it's definitely a game to build off. Coming into this one, we knew we had to get it."
Brooklyn also shot 56.5 percent, marking its second-highest shooting percentage in a game this year. It occurred on a night when the defense held Dallas to 35.6 percent from the floor.
The Nets also halted their skid with a slightly altered lineup.
A back injury kept Treveon Graham from his starting power forward spot, and he was replaced by rookie Rodions Kurucs. Another was move was using Caris LeVert as a reserve, starting Allen Crabbe in his stead.
Both moves paid off, as Kurucs hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points, while LeVert scored 18 after shooting just 9 of 25 during the skid.
"We understand how important these games are leading up to the playoffs," Crabbe said. "We're not going to act like we're not focused on 1/8the playoffs 3/8. That was a big part for us this season.
"But I think guys are just locked-in. Losing those last three games didn't feel good, and we just weren't ourselves. Us getting back to ourselves this game and just continuing to build on it."
The Nets (33-33) are 6-10 in their last 16 games and enter Wednesday tied for sixth in the East with Detroit. Brooklyn concludes the season series with Detroit on Monday before starting the seven-game trip next Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
Cleveland (16-48) is three games ahead of the New York Knicks in the "race" for the worst record in the league, but is playing better of late.
Since losing 18 of 19 from Dec. 19-Jan. 25, the Cavaliers are 7-7. They also are 4-2 since the All-Star break.
Cleveland endured an ugly showing in a 129-93 loss to Detroit on Saturday, but the Cavaliers followed it up with a 107-93 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday.
The Cavs allowed their third-lowest point total of the campaign and allowed less than 100 for the ninth time this season. They also outscored Orlando 40-21 in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Clarkson led six players in double figures with 18 points, while rookie Collin Sexton added 17. Kevin Love collected 16 and 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double since returning from foot surgery.
Playing the third of seven straight games against teams in playoff contention in the East, Cleveland seems to be enjoying its potential spoiler role.
"There has to be something to play for, but also finding that motivation every single night, and I think that can definitely be it," Love said. "It's very fun to win, it's fun to beat good teams that are fighting for playoff spots. We are a young team and we're going to lose some games, but hopefully, we can find our way so next year we start off on a good foot. I think that's very, very important."
The Nets have won two of the first three meetings, though they have struggled to contain Clarkson, who is averaging 25.3 points in the season series.
After Brooklyn claimed a 16-point win in Cleveland on Oct. 24, the teams split a pair of dramatic games. Former Cavalier Alec Burks (since traded to the Kings) hit the game-winning dunk with 3.2 seconds left to give Cleveland a 99-97 win in Brooklyn on Dec. 3. On Feb. 13, Russell scored 14 of his 36 points in the third overtime of Brooklyn's 148-139 victory in Cleveland.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 5, 2019