Kidd begins to sit regulars as division hopes fade
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The chase is over. But the quest has just begun.
With their playoff position a virtual lock, the Brooklyn Nets began to take their foot off the gas pedal a bit Wednesday night, suffering a 115-111 loss in Orlando with several key players getting the night off as per first-year head coach Jason Kidd's instructions.
All but assured of being the No. 5 seed in the upcoming first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Nets saw no reason to make a late push for either the Atlantic Division crown or home-court advantage in their upcoming opening series against the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls.
That’s the main reason why starting forward Paul Pierce (sore hip), starting guard Shaun Livingston (sore toe) and reserve big man Andray Blatche (flu-like symptoms) all took a seat on the bench against the Magic just one night after the Nets scored a huge win over the Heat in Miami.
Brooklyn, which is three games behind both Atlantic Division-leading Toronto and Chicago with only four regular-season games remaining, is clearly looking at the bigger picture, finding a way to win its first postseason series since 2007.
Kevin Garnett, who sat out the season sweep-clinching victory over the Heat Tuesday night after returning from a 19-game absence due to back spasms last weekend in Philadelphia, returned to the starting lineup against Orlando.
The future Hall of Fame power forward had a solid night, contributing five points, eight rebounds and six assists in 16 ½ minutes.
All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson did his best to keep the Nets afloat, scoring a game-high 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting. But ultimately, Brooklyn (43-35) didn’t have enough weapons at its disposal to push past the Magic (23-35), who won their second straight while snapping the Nets’ three-game winning streak.
Johnson even found himself manning the middle after backup center Mason Plumlee, who saved Tuesday’s win by blocking LeBron James’ bid for a game-winning dunk, fouled out during the Nets’ late charge in the fourth quarter.
"Later in the game when we had pretty much five guards out there, and playing Joe at the center position … we put Joe in a bad position, trying to make a three on a 7-footer,” Kidd admitted. “So as coaches we need to get better and look at some different things."
Kidd did concede that the Nets’ main focus now is on being as healthy and rested as possible for the postseason.
He indicated that other starters, perhaps even Johnson and Deron Williams, would see their share of time off when Brooklyn returns to Barclays Center on Friday to kick off a three-game homestand, beginning with Friday’s contest against the playoff-hopeful Atlanta Hawks.
“It’ll be good to get a couple games [off] here and there,” said Williams after an 11-point, five-assist effort in Wednesday’s loss. “There’s only four games left so we probably won’t get too much rest.”
Mirza Teletovic, starting in place of Pierce, scored 17 points, Plumlee had 16 and Marcus Thornton added 13 off the bench for Brooklyn, which will try to extend its franchise record home winning streak to 16 Friday night.
Then again, if the Nets lose to Atlanta, the Knicks would be officially eliminated from the playoff race, leaving Brooklyn as the Big Apple’s lone representative in the postseason, a position owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the rest of the Nets’ hierarchy would doubtlessly covet.
In other Nets news, the team announced Thursday morning that they would play two preseason games in China next season as part of the NBA Global Games 2014.
Brooklyn will face the Kings on Oct. 12 at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, and take on Sacramento again Oct. 15 at MasterCard Center in Beijing.
“There’s a huge interest in basketball in China,’’ said Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko. “We went there in 2008 in Beijing for Olympics; it was crazy. Every NBA player is treated like a god.”
“Our games in China not only allow us to bring our brand to such an important global market. But from a business standpoint it gives us a chance to be in front of Chinese companies who have expressed an interest in the Nets and Brooklyn,” added Nets and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark said.
“We will be very active during our trip in seeking to create strategic partnerships by demonstrating the powerful benefits of growing their business through the Nets in the U.S.’s No. 1 media market.”
This will be the Nets’ second trip to China. They also played two preseason games in Beijing and Guangzhou in 2010.
“China is big for the NBA,’’ noted Garnett. “They have some of the most exuberant, enthusiastic fans. I think it’s important to play there.’’
Nothing But Net: After hosting Atlanta on Friday, the Nets will play the Magic at Barclays Center on Sunday and take on the Knicks there Tuesday night in what is shaping up as a meaningless home finale. The Nets will close out the regular season April 16 at Cleveland, where they played their season opener. … Brooklyn’s 15-game home winning streak is also the longest in the NBA this season.