After 2-5 trip, Nets return home to face Celtics
After seven games and 17 days on the road, the Brooklyn Nets are glad to return home.
Even if the schedule presents some tough challenges with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
One of those challenges occurs Saturday night when the Nets host the Boston Celtics, who are coming off a dramatic and important win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
Brooklyn (38-38) is playing its first home game since a 103-75 blowout win over the Detroit Pistons on March 11. The Nets began the trip on a four-game winning streak and just ahead of Detroit for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn went 2-5 on its trek, and it enters Saturday in seventh place with three games separating the sixth through 10th spots. The Nets sit a half-game behind Detroit, a half-game up on the Miami Heat, one ahead of the Orlando Magic and 2 1/2 in front of the Charlotte Hornets.
"It's a lot of pressure because our goal is to make the playoffs and I think we came this far and if we don't make the playoffs it's definitely a letdown so we're all trying to get there," Nets forward Ed Davis said. "That's our goal. If we don't make it, I know personally, I would be devastated and I think 99 percent of people in this organization feel the same way."
The Nets are starting a three-game homestand. After Saturday, they host Milwaukee and Toronto before visiting Milwaukee and Indiana on a back-to-back next weekend and ending the season April 10 at home against Miami.
During the just-concluded trip, the Nets encountered ups and downs. They opened the trip with a second-half collapse in Oklahoma City, got blown out at Utah, fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on a buzzer-beater by Lou Williams, overcame a 28-point deficit to beat Sacramento, beat the Los Angeles Lakers, then lost a double-overtime epic in Portland.
Those results preceded the end of the trip, a 123-110 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday. The Nets trailed by 15 after the first quarter in a game in which missed 10 free throws and committed 15 turnovers.
"We have to be better," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "You have to be better on the road to beat a team like this. You have to take care of the ball. That was the No. 1 thing. We just handed it to them too many times. Then the missed free throws."
D'Angelo Russell averaged 26.1 points on the trip while shooting 51.2 percent shooting, but he was held to 13 points on 6-of-19 shooting Thursday.
The Nets are 1-2 against Boston, but their one win was a 109-102 home decision on Jan. 14 when Kyrie Irving sat out due to a strained right quadriceps.
Irving also sat out Boston's 112-104 home win over Brooklyn on Jan. 28 with a sore left hip, and he'll miss Saturday night's game, too, with lower back soreness, the Celtics announced.
Irving scored 30 points Friday for the sixth time in his past seven games, and he hit the game-winning layup just before the buzzer in a 114-112 home win over the Pacers. During the seven-game span, Irving is averaging 28.4 points.
Irving's game-winning play gave the Celtics (45-31) a second straight win after they dropped four straight from March 18-24. The Celtics own a 2-1 series edge on Indiana, with head-to-head serving as the first tiebreaker. The teams will meet again April 5 in Indianapolis.
Boston is 10-12 since winning five straight Jan. 28-Feb 5 and has not won more than three straight in that span.
The Friday win also occurred on a night when Stevens used Al Horford and Aron Baynes as part of his starting frontcourt. The duo combined for 32 points and 20 rebounds. It's a combination the Celtics may use the rest of the season, though the team announced Horford is out with left knee soreness.
"We need rim protection," Irving said. "We've been relatively small not in height but in terms of our physical presence out there when we have some of our wings guarding bigs ... I know Coach had a great game plan of putting both those guys out there."
The Celtics are 11-1 in the past 12 meetings with the Nets.
Forward Jayson Tatum is questionable with an undisclosed illness.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 30, 2019