Nets and Celtics face off in pivotal game in Brooklyn

The Nets try to maneuver past the Boston Celtics tonight. (AP)
The Nets try to maneuver past the Boston Celtics tonight. (AP)

Figure out this Nets team yet?

After losing five straight games, the Nets (29-39) have won four out their last five to put them just a game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. For a team that has looked beaten and fatigued on numerous occasions in the second half of the season, the 123-point, 61.4 percent shooting performance in Indiana after a three-overtime affair the previous night against the Milwaukee Bucks tells the tale of rejuvenated team primed to make a run at the playoffs.

It was all good news for Brooklyn. Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack combined for 30 points, 14 assists, and zero turnovers. Williams played only 22 of 63 minutes the night before against Milwaukee, but scored 15 first-quarter points the next night. Brook Lopez continued his strong inside play, and with his 26-point, four-block performance, became the first Nets player to record 25-plus points and four-plus blocks in consecutive games. Alan Anderson recorded three steals in the win, and has steadily become one of the team’s more reliable perimeter defenders to go along with 41.3 percent three point shooting since the All-Star break. Bojan Bogdanovic was perfect.

Tonight, the Boston Celtics (30-39) come into Barclays Center fresh off their third straight loss: a disappointing 105-97 overtime defeat at home against the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics played the game without a primary point guard; Marcus Smart served a one-game suspension for punching Matt Bonner in the groin (yup) and Isaiah Thomas missed his fourth straight game nursing elbow and neck injuries. Both should return tonight.

After shooting just 36.2 percent and relinquishing a couple of big second half leads, ex-Net Gerald Wallace engaged the team in a post-game pep talk. “He’s been through it. He knows what it takes,” said forward Jae Crowder, “We’re a younger team, and we have to take on his leadership and listen and follow suit.”

The Nets split their first two games against the Celtics, but dropped a clunker at home in their last meeting on January 7th in Brooklyn. Thanks to 17 turnovers and 40.5 percent shooting, the Nets despite a strong first quarter (sound familiar?) fell to the Celtics 89-81 led by Avery Bradley’s 21 points. A Nets victory would tie the season series, meaning any tiebreaker between these two teams would go by their records against the Eastern Conference. A Celtics victory would give Boston the tiebreaker outright.

With the Milwaukee Bucks losing 13 of their last 16 games, the last three spots in the East have become a six-team race. Milwaukee, Miami, Charlotte, Indiana, Boston, and the Nets are all separated by just four games in the standings, with a little over three weeks remaining in the regular season. The Nets have one game remaining with all of the aforementioned teams except for the Heat.

What to watch for: The rise of Bojan “Flames” Bogdanovic. In an up-and-down rookie season, Bojan Bogdanovic has injected much-needed production into the Nets rotation with his inspired recent play, culminating with a perfect 8-for-8 shooting game in Indiana on Saturday. In his last four games, Bogdanovic has averaged 17.8 points at a scorching 63.8 percent clip, including 50 percent (8-16) from three-point range.

Tip-off is at 7:30 PM EDT at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.