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There won’t be a Knicks-Nets first-round playoff series after all.
The Nets are destined to play one of the Wizards, Celtics, Pacers or Hornets, and only one of the former two if they win Sunday’s matchup against the Cavaliers.
Nets head coach Steve Nash says the team is paying attention to the play-in tournament games like the rest of the basketball world. But they are also staying focused on the task at hand. They must win their final regular season game to secure the No. 2 seed over the Milwaukee Bucks, who will leapfrog the Nets with a win and a Brooklyn loss.
“We obviously know what’s left here and what we’re playing for. If we win or we lose, we understand the parameters,” he said. “But at the same time, that’s next weekend. Right now, we’ve got to worry about tonight and finish the regular season off well not only for the standings but for our collective growth.”
Assuming the Nets defeat the lowly Cavaliers on Sunday night, they will have a date with Boston or Washington for their first round. The Celtics are led by All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, but they recently lost All-Star forward Jaylen Brown for the remainder of the season due to a wrist injury.
The Celtics are a tough opponent and have years of playoff experience under a bright head coach in Brad Stevens. They have not lived up to expectations this season, however, and are down an All-Star wing in Brown, who is as quality of a two-way playmaker as there is in the league.
The Wizards, on the other hand, are finally putting it together. The Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook pairing was ugly at first, but with the playoffs on the line, the Wizards have powered themselves to the eighth seed. They are quietly one of the hottest teams in all of basketball, led by two superstars who are chasing playoff success in what appeared to be a lost season.
The Wizards could have an advantage over a Celtics team still adjusting to the loss of Brown. With Beal and Westbrook in Washington, the play-in tournament may have just paved the way to Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, Vol. 2.
Durant and Westbrook were teammates who nearly won a championship for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. Years later, Durant left Westbrook for the Golden State Warriors, where he won back-to-back championships and NBA Finals MVP awards.
Their relationship has never been the same, and the reunion was heated for Durant’s first return to Oklahoma City.
There’s a lot on the line as the Nets wrap up the regular season, but what’s most important for them has and will continue to be themselves. They are still working out the kinks on a roster that’s been in flux all season.
Now we know one of the Celtics or Wizards will be waiting for them. It’s only a matter of which one.