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Nets clinch playoff berth but have bigger goals in mind

Joe Johnson scored 32 points in the Nets’ playoff-clinching win over Houston on Tuesday night. AP photos

Team Gets Record 14th Straight Home Win

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

By the time the buzzer sounded on the red-hot Nets’ 105-96 victory over the Houston Rockets in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night, the only question remaining was what Brooklyn would choose to celebrate first.

There was a franchise-record 14-game home-winning streak that had just been completed, snapping the mark set during the franchise’s halcyon days in New Jersey back in 2002.

The Nets had also beaten the visiting Rockets for the first time in 15 meetings, dating to March 2006.

And then there was Jason Kidd being named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for the second time this year, becoming only the second rookie head coach to do so in NBA history.

Oh, and by the way, the Nets also secured their second straight trip to the playoffs since arriving in Downtown Brooklyn, an accomplishment that appeared beyond their reach following a gruesome 10-21 start to the season and the loss of All-Star center Brook Lopez for the rest of the year.

So what was on Nets’ players minds when Pharrell Williams’ Oscar-nominated celebratory tune “Happy” began blaring through the speakers at Brooklyn’s state-of-the-art arena?

Simply this: What’s next?

“We expected to be in the playoffs,” Nets forward Paul Pierce emphasized. “This is just another step toward our goal. … This is something we expected to do. We’re happy to make the playoffs, but that’s just a small goal for us.”

Paul Pierce called the Nets’ playoff berth a “small goal” following Brooklyn’s franchise-record 14th consecutive home win.

Armed with the highest payroll in the history of the league and owners of the longest home-winning streak in the NBA this season, the Nets are well beyond the point of taking bows for simply clinching a playoff spot for the second straight year.

Last season, they won 49 games overall, established a team record for victories on the road and were one of the hottest teams in the NBA entering the postseason.

But all that went up in smoke following a soul-crushing Game 7 home loss to Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs.

These Nets (40-33), owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference since the start of the New Year at 30-13 and winners of 21 of their last 23 here in Brooklyn, aren’t settling for a strong finish to the regular season.

Their “On-to-the-next-one” approach, to quote a former minority owner, has been the lynchpin for their 2014 success.  

So don’t expect Brooklyn players, and especially not their coach, to stop and smell the roses just yet.

Not with the desperate East River rival Knicks awaiting the Nets’ arrival Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden with their own tenuous playoff hopes on the line.

''We know these games, even if you say they don't mean more, they mean a lot more, I think, just because of the rivalry that's been formed,'' Nets guard Deron Williams noted shortly after the playoff-clinching win over the Rockets.

Helping to knock the Knicks out of the postseason would clear the Big Apple stage for the Nets come playoff time, something they’ve been longing to do since billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov began his well-chronicled feud with James Dolan several years ago.

A win Wednesday night would also help the Nets move closer in the race for home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs as Brooklyn is only 1 ½ games behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto and fourth-seeded Chicago with nine games remaining.

The Nets acquired both Pierce and the still-injured Kevin Garnett (back spasms) from Boston last June for just this reason.

They are no longer content to be New York’s second team or pleased with themselves after accomplishing their short-term goals.

This team is now in it for the long haul, championship or bust.  

And putting away the Knicks while taking another step up in the standings is the best way to inch closer toward that ultimate goal.

“We’ve been in an uphill climb pretty much the whole year and playing catch-up,” Johnson admitted. “To clinch [a playoff spot] is somewhat of a relief, but we understand we got a lot more work to do. We want to move up.”  

And move forward.

There’s no looking back for these Nets. Not with so many celebrations to be had in their not-too-distant-future.

Nothing But Net: Kidd was humbled by his second Coach of the Month award in three months, but didn’t believe he earned the honor alone. "It's not a coach award, it's the way the guys are playing," said Kidd, who led the Nets to a 12-4 record in March, the same mark they posted in January. "And when the guys are playing great, my job is to stay out of the way. It's a great honor for those guys. Unfortunately, they put the coach's name on it." … Johnson went 13-of-21 from the floor Wednesday, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range. He also took a moment to address how far the Nets have come since their dismal two-month stretch to start the campaign. “It means a lot,” he said. “Because I remember there was a time when we couldn’t get a win here in our own building. This is definitely a special moment.” … The Nets had six players score in double digits Wednesday, including Johnson (32 points), Shaun Livingston (17), Andray Blatche (13), Williams (12), rookie Mason Plumlee (11) and Mirza Teletovic (10). … Garnett missed his 17th consecutive game against the Rockets and Andrei Kirilenko was also unavailable due to his ongoing bout with a sprained left ankle. … The Knicks and Nets have split their first two meetings this season, with each winning on the opponents’ home floor. New York beat Brooklyn, 113-83, here on Dec. 5, and the Nets returned the favor at Madison Square Garden, 103-80, on Jan. 20. Wednesday will mark the third of four meetings in the rivalry, with the teams slated to play at Barclays on April 15.

Jason Kidd was named the Eastern Conference’s Coach of the Month for the second time this season.

April 2, 2014 - 12:00pm


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