The Nets are in the playoffs.
Now comes the hard part as they are essentially done with the regular season, and are moving on to the 76ers.
They cruised to a 101-84 rout of Orlando before a sellout crowd of 18,177 at Barclays Center on Friday night to clinch the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference with a game to play.
The regular-season finale will be Sunday against Philadelphia, the same team they’ll face in the first round of the playoffs, starting next weekend.
Don’t expect any fireworks, or anything that resembles postseason passion.
That will come later.
The Nets got a game-high 22 points from Mikal Bridges, a Philadelphia native who was drafted by the Sixers (for which his mother worked) and promptly traded 15 minutes later at the 2018 NBA Draft.
Now he will head down the Turnpike, back home as an emerging star for the Nets.
Want to catch a game? The Nets schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.
“It’s just the playoffs. It’s time to lock in and take it up another notch no matter who it is,” Bridges said. “Obviously, I’m back home, I play in that gym a lot. But I’ll have the same energy, same aggressiveness no matter what team we play. So, not really [any extra]. I’m just kind of going back home, so a lot of friends and family will be able to make it, easier for them.”
The Nets technically clinched with four minutes to play on Friday, when the seventh-place Heat’s loss to the Wizards ended.
Now they will prepare for their playoff series with the 76ers, against whom the Nets are slowly building a rivalry.
“It lets us focus on Philly and hone in on what’s next,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.
The mere mention of the 76ers is a reminder of a painful Nets failure: From their 1976 entrance into the NBA, which came at the cost of selling Julius Erving to the Sixers for $3 million in the worst trade in team history (and considering the ill-advised 2013 Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce deal, that’s a high bar), there is history with Philadelphia.
And most of that history is negative.
The Nets’ have played 12 postseason games against the 76ers and lost eight of them.
There was the 2019 playoff defeat that got testy when Joel Embiid threw an elbow at Jarrett Allen, Jared Dudley went after the 76ers star and general manager Sean Marks stormed into the officials’ locker room.
The teams have the same seeds this year they had in 2019, although Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris are the lone Nets on the team this season who were on that upstart squad.
“We’re more established. That was a young team trying to find their way,” Dinwiddie said. “We have a lot of guys who understand who we are in the NBA already. We’re trying to find our way as a unit. That one was more so we had a lot of guys trying to find their way as individuals in the league.
“We had great vibes, a bunch of great character guys … but we still just were wide-eyed and didn’t necessarily know. You’ve got guys on this team who went to the Finals, conference finals, things of that nature, have experience, and have an appropriate respect for Philly obviously, but there’s no fear or anything.”
After that playoff appearance, Nets general manager Sean Marks assembled a supposed superteam by signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, then adding James Harden.
But last season, Harden forced his way out and engineered a trade to Philadelphia that brought Ben Simmons to the Nets.
Suffice it to say with Simmons’ injuries (he missed all of last season and was shut down again this season with a bad back), it hasn’t gone as the Nets had planned.
Simmons will be in street clothes when the Nets host the 76ers on Sunday in the low-stakes finale, and when they travel to Philadelphia next week for the games that count.
Forget the fact they’ve lost three straight to the Sixers.
The Harden-Simmons subplot will add spice to what has the potential to be a rivalry.
“Definitely,” Dinwiddie said. “I think we need a little more long-standing success as a rivalry to call Philly a true rival, but we have had some iconic meetings when I was there. They had a little beef; Nic [Claxton] and Embiid got into it, and Embiid had elbowed Jarrett, stuff like that. I’d say it’s too early.”
But not if the Nets can take care of their business.
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