With division hopes gone, Brooklyn focuses on locking up coveted fourth seed
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
P.J. Carlesimo didn't have the exact numbers handy, but he knows all too well how important it is for an NBA playoff team to have a potential Game 7 on its home floor.
"If [a playoff series] gets to a Game 7, it's a significant advantage to have Game 7 at home," the Nets' interim coach said before Brooklyn easily vanquished the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, 104-83, on Tuesday night before a crowd of 17,192 at Downtown's Barclays Center, further strengthening its hold on the coveted fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I think statistics are pretty strong to have a Game 7 in our building," added Carlesimo as the Nets prepared to take off on their final regular-season road trip of their historic inaugural campaign in our fair borough, one that will see them take the floor in Boston on Wednesday night before stops in Indiana (Friday) and Toronto (Sunday).
The numbers certainly back Carlesimo's guestimate.
In the previous 111 Game 7s in NBA postseason history, the home team has come away victorious in the ultimate contest a staggering 89 times, including Miami's dramatic triumph over Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals last June en route to a world championship.
With Tuesday's victory over the Sixers, the Nets improved to 24-15 this season on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, compared to a more-than-respectable 21-17 mark on the road as they prepare to visit TD Garden.
Brooklyn's slim hopes for an Atlantic Division crown went by the wayside Tuesday evening as the red-hot Knicks reeled off their 13th straight win over Washington at Madison Square Garden, clinching first place for the first time since 1994.
But the inevitable bad news from across the East River hardly squelched the Nets' desire to finish up strong and hold on to the No. 4 seed, guaranteeing Games 1, 2, 5 and, most importantly, Game 7 of their first playoff series since 2007 will be played right here.
"We're still playing for [playoff] position. We're still playing for home court," Carlesimo conceded after his team cut its magic number for securing the fourth spot to 3.
The Nets are three full games in front of Chicago for the No. 4 seed, despite last Thursday's gutwrenching 92-90 home loss to the shorthanded Bulls.
"We're a pretty good road team, but our record is still better at home," added Nets point guard Deron Williams, who finished with 11 points and four assists in limited minutes Tuesday as Brooklyn's big men dominated the interior play against Philadelphia.
All-Star center Brook Lopez scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the first quarter and Reggie "Mr. Pure Energy" Evans tallied 17 points and 24 boards for his NBA-leading ninth 20-carom game of the season for the Nets, who ran out to a 31-18 lead after 12 minutes and never looked back.
"They were dominant inside. They set a great tone for us," Carlesimo said of Lopez and Evans.
"If you need to pick someone to go to battle with, you want Reg. You want Reggie on your team," added Williams.
Evans, who also dished out a pair of assists and picked up three steals, knows that he and Lopez's hard work along the interior opens things up for Williams and on-the-mend backcourt mate Joe Johnson, who registered 11 points in 23 minutes Tuesday as he continues to recover from foot and calf issues.
"People are double-teaming Joe and double-teaming D. Will, so I'm just picking up what's left," noted Evans, who continues to lead the league with a startling 21.6 rebounds per 48 minutes, nearly three boards per contest better than Houston's Turkish 7-foot center Omer Asik.
"I think it was just the aggressiveness of our entire team," Lopez said after Nets won the final two of a three-game stopover in Brooklyn following their epic eight-game, 17-day sojourn.
Hoop du Jour: Nets minority owner and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z appears to be pulling out just as the Nets are pulling into the playoffs. The renowned Brooklyn rapper's newly formed sports agency, Roc Nation Sports, has already lured Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano as a client. But if the artist also known as Shawn Carter wants to begin inking NBA players in advance of June's Draft, he'll have to give up his stake in the Nets, which is reported to be just one-fifteenth of one percent. However, NBA rules dictate that Jay-Z can still hold on to his minority stake in the Barclays Center, which he famously opened with a series of concerts last September. ... "If Joe's healthy, we're fine," Carlesimo said Tuesday in regard to Johnson's slow but steady return to the Nets' rotation. Johnson, who along with Williams could give Brooklyn one of the most formidable backcourts in the playoffs, hit 5-of-10 shots, grabbed two boards, dished out a pair of assists and even blocked a shot against the Sixers. ... The Nets' "Bench Mob" saw plenty of action against Philadelphia with the game in hand early. Second-year guard MarShon Brooks led the reserves with 11 points while rejuvenated power forward Kris Humphries added nine points and seven rebounds. "When we maintain the lead and play with energy, our second team can play with any second team in the NBA," Brooks said.