Can the Nets keep winning against East-best Hawks?


Somehow, the Brooklyn Nets just keep on winning.

Behind a combined 90 points from Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Thaddeus Young, and a season-high 37 fourth-quarter points, the Nets (35-40) toppled the Toronto Raptors 114-109, in front of a pumped-up crowd at Barclays Center Friday night. Young’s offensive rebound and put-back to break the tie with 22 seconds left proved to be the game-winner for the Nets’ sixth straight win.

After the game, the Nets traveled south for the second game of a back-to-back set, this one against the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks (56-19). Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has rested his starters at different points down the stretch after clinching the #1 seed in the playoffs last week. The Hawks have run away with the East for most of the season, thanks in part to the 19-game winning streak they ripped off from December through January, and an extended 44-7 stretch midseason.

Tonight, all hands should be on deck for the Hawks, considering they’ve had three days off since their 105-95 loss in Detroit to the Pistons Tuesday. That doesn’t mean the head coach will push the starters full tilt; in the loss, Budenholzer instituted a platoon system, where all five starters played 24 minutes while the remaining bench combined to play the remaining allotted 24 minutes. The Hawks have lost seven of their last 14, and while staying healthy is a priority, not losing the cohesion is an emphasis for the second-year head coach.

“We’re hopeful that we can make it a positive,” Budenholzer said, “But we want to be playing good ball going into the playoffs. Sometimes, other teams may be in a situation where they’re pushed a little harder. So we need to find a way to push ourselves….We need to find a way to keep our own edge, our own focus. If we can do that and stay healthy, it’s going to be a great couple of weeks.”

Not to mention that Budenholzer, also the team’s interim GM, has added incentive to beat the Nets: the Hawks will swap first-round draft picks with Brooklyn, and any loss the Hawks can hand the Nets would help them improve their draft stock.

The Nets will be without Alan Anderson tonight after he sprained his ankle during the second half of last night’s game. He’ll stay behind in Brooklyn for further evaluation.

What to watch for: Second-unit production. Lionel Hollins emphasized his disappointment with the second unit last night was his main reason for pushing his starters in the second half, particularly Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who played all 24 second-half minutes. Jarrett Jack struggled to run the offense in his nine minutes, shooting 0-for-4 with just one assist, and Mason Plumlee’s four-plus minutes were riddled with defensive breakdowns. How both coaches stagger the minutes, oddly enough, should play a significant factor in the outcome.

Tip-off is at 7:30 EDT at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, GA.