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The Nets righted their listing ship down the stretch. But now comes the play-in tournament, more pressure-packed than the playoffs. 

“It’s great. Best time of year,” Steve Nash said. “Best time of year for sure.” 

Brooklyn’s Tuesday play-in tilt against the visiting Cavaliers (7 p.m. TNT) is essentially like a Game 6 of a seven-game series when you have a 3-2 lead. And that’s exactly how Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Nets are treating it. There’s a margin for error, but the Nets certainly don’t want to use it. 

“Let’s get it on,” said Irving, channeling Marvin Gaye. “This is a special time of the year going against a team like the Cavaliers. … They’re going to make adjustments, we’re going to make adjustments and it’s going to be an all-out battle.” 

After just beating Cleveland 118-107 on Friday, the Nets have to face the same Cavs team again with a victory clinching the seventh seed, and a first-round playoff date against Boston. A loss sets up the daunting prospect of facing the Hawks-Hornets winner for the No. 8 seed, and a date with No. 1 Miami. 

In essence, high drama. 

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
Corey Sipkin

“Number one, I think somebody’s in the back room hip-hip-hooraying whoever created the tournament, because last year you get Steph [Curry] and LeBron [James]. This year you get me and KD going against the Cavs in the play-in game,” Irving said. “It feels like one of those Game 6s, Game 7s where it’s a must-win, and … it’s not going to depend on anything other than will, skill, how well you’re prepared.” 

Brooklyn’s preparation has been an arduous, wildly inconsistent season that’s seen COVID, trades, injuries and Irving being ineligible much of the season. They sat 10th in the Eastern Conference just a week ago but closed with four straight to climb into seventh. But the job is nowhere near done. 

Yes, Brooklyn (44-38) took three of four from Cleveland, including the last meeting. But even if shot-blocking center Jarrett Allen (finger) can’t play against his old team, combo guard Darius Garland is an electric talent. 

“He’s cold,” Nic Claxton said of Garland, adding “We’ve definitely been battle-tested throughout this whole year. We’ve got a lot of new guys here, but we’re ready. The guys that we have are mostly healthy and we’re ready for whoever we’ve got to play against. It don’t matter.” 

The Nets want to avoid facing elimination Friday against the Hawks or Hornets, having lost to both in the past couple of weeks. 

“Absolutely. We’re only focusing on [Tuesday],” Nash said. “If we happen to lose and have to play a subsequent game, we’ll focus on that game. But right now we’ll play this like it’s our opportunity to get in and give the requisite focus and energy. 

Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen (24) during the Nets' win over the Cavaliers on April 8.
Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket against Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen (24) during the Nets’ win over the Cavaliers on April 8.
USA TODAY Sports

“We’re all excited. We’re still getting to know this group. There’s confidence in there, but there’s excitement to continue to grow and build and compete. … We should be excited about what we can build, what we can accomplish in a short period of time here and how difficult we could be to beat in a playoff situation.” 

Or a play-in one. 

While Joe Harris and Ben Simmons won’t play, Goran Dragic cleared health and safety protocols and Seth Curry (probable) insists he’ll play through his sore left ankle. Such is the importance of a play-in that has the feel of March Madness. 

“Yeah, it’s one game. You’ve got to put everything into it. It’s not like getting a ‘feel out’ game like you would in a seven-game series. It’s more just leave it on the floor for that one game and then move on to the next,” said the floor-spacing Curry, who lifts the Nets’ Offensive Rating from 113.8 to 119.9 when he plays. 

“It’s always fun; playoffs is the best time of the year. Games get ramped up, higher intensity. It’s a higher level of play. You see teams at their best if they’re healthy; so it’s very exciting time of year. You get to see the best out of players and teams.”

Source: NYPOST

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