The snow has not cooled off the Nets’ offense the past two games. After scoring 122 points in their overtime loss to Toronto on Friday night, the Nets (19-28), sparked by a late 15-4 run in the last two minutes, reigned victorious over the visiting Clippers following Jarrett Jack’s thrilling go-ahead jumper with 1.3 seconds left. The late run capped off a season-high 64 point second half that saw the Nets sink 10 of 18 three-pointers, and their 32 fourth-quarter points were the most in the final frame since the season opener in Boston.
The return of Deron Williams (15 points, three assists) after an 11-game absence was a welcome sight, especially for Jack, who played a career-high 52 minutes against the Raptors in the previous game.
Tonight, a “rematch” of sorts is on tap: the Nets look for payback on the road after their overtime loss at home just five days ago. The Raptors (33-16), after notching back-to-back overtime road wins last weekend in Brooklyn and Washington, put up a stinker Tuesday night at home versus the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks, playing without their starting point guard Brandon Knight (sore right quad). The Raptors shot a putrid 32.1 percent and just 7-for-27 from three en route to a lackluster 82-75 loss to the Bucks, who started ex-Net Jorge Gutierrez at the point. The Raptors’ backcourt quartet of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams combined to shoot just 10-for-46 from the field in the loss, albeit against one of the stingiest defenses in the NBA.
With 35 games left on Brooklyn’s docket, the Nets stand 1.5 games behind the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets for the East’s final playoff spot. With Williams back healthy and Brook Lopez playing his best basketball of the season off the bench, general manager Billy King has put the muffle on all trade talks until at least after the All-Star break. “Are we aggressively shopping our guys? No,” King said. “Have we had a lot of conversations with people? Yes. But that’s part of the job. I’d say more now we are not making phone calls; phone calls are coming in and we are evaluating things. But right now I want to see this group play. I still have confidence in the group that they can still get the job done, get us in the playoffs.”
The Nets will play five more games before the All-Star Break, four coming on the road against winning teams — the Raptors, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, and Memphis Grizzlies.
Games like Monday night make the notion of a playoff series this season seem exciting, and King’s words mirror that sentiment. After last season’s thrilling playoff series ending in seven games and Friday’s nail-biter in Brooklyn, the Nets and Raptors have groomed a tenacious rivalry within the division. But rivalries fizzle out quickly when one team plummets; tonight’s game, while just one of 82, has a little more juice than the others, if for nothing else: injecting that playoff feeling back in the roster.
Tip-off is at 7:30 E.S.T. at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.