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The Nets’ playoff scenarios are looking grim, but they do have one glimmer of hope

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 2/27/2020 By Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News

Is there a playoff matchup that makes sense for the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets?

“Uhh, Real Madrid,” head coach Kenny Atkinson joked. “Even them, I’m not sure I want to play them, either.”

This is the state of these Nets with less than two months to go until the playoffs begin. There is no favorable matchup once mid-April arrives. For the Nets, the postseason may mirror an episode of “1,000 Ways to Die.”

Objective No. 1: Avoid death by deer stampede at all costs.

There is no surviving Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a No. 1 vs. No. 8 first-round showdown. Spencer Dinwiddie said it best: “We definitely don’t want to be eighth,” he said on Jan. 31. “I don’t think anybody wants to play Giannis in the first round.

“They might have me guarding him. You never know. I end up guarding all them folks. Don’t put me on Giannis. I can’t guard him. Put me on Jimmy [Butler], Jayson [Tatum], Ben [Simmons] or Tobias [Harris], but not Giannis.”

The same can be said of the Nets team as a whole. Brooklyn’s best bet — a puncher’s chance, at that — is to avoid the team with the best record in basketball. They did not do themselves any favors blowing a 19-point lead in a loss to the eighth-seeded Magic on Monday.

The Nets are seven games behind the sixth seed (Pacers) and six games in front of the ninth seed (Wizards). They are also only 0.5 games ahead of the Magic, who have one of the five easiest remaining schedules in the NBA.

Atkinson and Nets players insist they’re not looking at the standings yet. They’re fighting for their playoff life, desperately hoping to avoid being overtaken by Orlando or, worst case, a late-season rally by the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards, though, have the third-toughest schedule in all of basketball. A playoff run in the nation’s capital is unlikely at best.

As it stands, the Toronto Raptors occupy the two seed and the Boston Celtics sit third. Those two teams are only separated by 1.5 games.

But the Nets have been thoroughly pummeled by the Raptors on two occasions: first in the preseason, then again in January. Toronto boasts an elite mix of size, ball movement and perimeter scoring.

“I’ve said it since the beginning of the year, I think they’re a championship-contending team,” Atkinson said on Feb. 8. “I said it when we played them in the exhibition [season]. They’re really good.”

That’s another team the Nets should avoid. The Raptors boast two All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, the latter of which the Nets have yet to find an answer. Toronto also has a bruising, floor-spacing center in Marc Gasol, and another stretch big in Serge Ibaka.

A series against the Raptors might as well be a series against the Bucks. A series against the Celtics, on the other hand, may be a bit more forgiving.

The Nets have only played the Celtics two times this season, but both games came in late-November. Brooklyn has changed since then: Kyrie Irving is still out, but Caris LeVert has returned. The Nets beat the Celtics by five in Brooklyn while LeVert was out nursing his thumb injury.

Like Toronto, Boston boasts two All-Stars in Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. The Celtics are deep at the guard and forward spots: Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart can each impact a game a variety of ways.

But while the Raptors have a deep, physical front court, the Celtics’ best big man is former Knick Enes Kanter. When fully locked-in, the Nets are one of the ten best defenses in the NBA. They should want to take their chances against a team with a slew of wings, rather than go toe-to-toe with a team whose size they simply cannot match.

A series against the Celtics does not guarantee a different result from a series against the Raptors. Walker and Tatum are two of the best scorers in the NBA, while Brooklyn’s two best scorers are set to watch these playoffs from the sidelines.

The Nets have no say in whether they face the Celtics or the Raptors, though they see Boston two more times before this season is over. The Celtics would need a Raptors losing streak to make up the game-and-a-half distance. They would also need to perform well in what’s the 11th-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA.

The Raptors have a slightly easier slate of games left on tap, ranking 18th in strength of schedule. Who ends up with the second seed has nothing to do with the Nets, though, until they shore up the seventh seed for themselves.


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