We are at the point in the NBA season where teams have solidified their playoff position. Some teams are trying to improve their spot, while others are hanging on to faint hopes. Such is the story of the four teams that took to the floor Friday night. The Brooklyn Nets hosted the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center while the New York Knicks were on the road against the division leading Toronto Raptors.
The Nets know they will face the Chicago Bulls (who took them out in 7 games last year) when the playoffs start in two weeks. There will be no urgency to play their starters extended minutes to keep them as fresh as possible. For Toronto, it's the same story, the team is looking to win its division for the first time in franchise history. Atlanta holds a 1.5 game lead over New York for the 8th and final spot. It's more like 2.5 games as if both teams end up with identical records, the Hawks would get in due to having a better conference record. Comments were made recently by the Hawks general manager Danny Ferry that they would not mind missing the playoffs (they would face Miami or Indiana in the first round) so they could be a team in the lottery. It had folks from the NBA shaking their heads.
When the Nets introduced their new big 3 (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry) last year the biggest question was how many minutes they would play during the course of the regular season as new first year Head Coach Jason Kidd knew that keeping them healthy and fresh would be the key to their postseason success or failure. Terry is no longer with the team, Pierce has been relatively healthy under those controlled minutes but Garnett's (his replacement Mason Plumlee has played very well in his place as evidenced by his game winning block against Le Bron James and Miami this past Tuesday) back has been a reason for concern. Before playing against Detroit last week on the road, Garnett missed the previous 15 games.
So it was no surprise when Brooklyn took the floor Friday night, the starting line-up had the look of an exhibition game. The Nets were without the services of Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson with little used Jorge Gutierrez starting in place of Williams. Garnett started his second straight game at center.
Plumlee continued his stellar play coming off the bench after Garnett's 3 minutes of play. Although he missed 2 of 3 free-throws, he connected on all 3 field goals scoring 7 points as the Nets took a 7 point (23-16) first quarter lead. The Hawks didn't play the second quarter like they were giving up on their playoff hopes. Led by Jeff Teague (all 14 points in the quarter) Atlanta outscored Brooklyn 39-24 to take an 8 point lead (55-47).
Atlanta extended the lead to 10 (66-56) after a Teague layup but the Nets closed out the 3rd quarter on a 17-8 run getting them within 1 (74-73) setting up the game that could define the Hawks post season plans.
Neither team led by more than 5 (86-81 Hawks) after 2 Paul Millsap free throws. His 27th point of the game gave them a 1 point lead (89-88) with 1:46 left. Teague adds to the lead with 2 free throws and then Kyle Korver blocks Marcus Thorton's lay-up attempt. Joe Johnson misses a floater followed by another Teague basket. Game over.
The New York Knicks did their part beating Toronto on the road but had to be hanging their collective heads when they learned about the 93-88 Atlanta win. The loss broke Brooklyn's 15 game home winning streak. Maybe Ferry was playing reverse psychology with his players when he made his no playoff comment. Looks like it's working.
Brooklyn's Bit: Prior to the game, New York High School, College and Pro legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar introduced his "Sky Hook Challenge" to bring awareness to the Chronic Myeloid Leukemia he was diagnosed with in 2008. "Skyhook Challenge is a timed trivia game fans participate in to see how many questions they can answer about Abdul Jabbar's basketball history. For more information log on to: www.CMLSkyhookChallenge.com