The Brooklyn Nets’ final games of the regular season aren’t against playoff-caliber teams, but coach Jason Kidd is still trying to make them count toward getting his team properly prepared for the postseason.
The Nets’ other remaining objective is to nail down the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, which they can secure Tuesday night with a home win over a New York Knicks team likely missing Carmelo Anthony.
After beating Orlando 97-88 on Sunday for its 17th win in its last 18 home games, Brooklyn (44-36) leads Washington by 1 1/2 games with the Wizards holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Taking care of the eliminated Knicks (35-45) will end any mystery about the Nets’ seed heading into their finale at Cleveland on Wednesday.
The Nets led by 12 in the fourth quarter, but after the Magic cut the lead to six Kidd re-inserted much of his starting lineup to close it out.
"We got to continue to get better each time we take the floor," Kidd said. "That’s one reason why I brought those guys back late in the fourth, was to give them … different situations of time and score and being able to execute and get stops."
After getting a game-high 20 points from Mirza Teletovic and 17 from both Joe Johnson and Mason Plumlee, the Nets have won seven of 10 and now are out to salvage a split of their season series with the Knicks.
Plumlee is averaging 14.8 points in his last five games while Teletovic is at 15.0 in his last three and is ready for the postseason.
"To be honest, I’m really excited to be going into the playoffs," Teletovic told the team’s official website. "I think like everybody on this team, we’re just trying to get ready for it."
The Nets and Knicks have yet to play a close game in this season series. Brooklyn lost by 30 at home in December and 29 at Madison Square Garden earlier this month, while it beat New York 103-80 on the road in January.
Anthony had double-doubles in all of those games but "probably won’t" play in this matchup, according to coach Mike Woodson. The superstar forward has been battling a sore right shoulder, which he was to have further evaluated Tuesday.
Woodson also would prefer to sit Anthony for the season finale Wednesday against Toronto unless he asks to play.
"I’m going to tell him I’m not going to play him. That’s what I’m going to do," Woodson said.
That means it’s possible Anthony has played his final game in a Knicks uniform because he plans to test free agency in the offseason. Sunday’s 100-89 home win over Chicago was new territory for Anthony, who is playing out a regular season having been eliminated from postseason contention for the first time in his career.
"Mentally, you just had to put yourself in that mindset. Although you’re not playing for nothing, if you suit up, you’ve still got to go out there and play ball," Anthony said.
New York is coming off wins over Toronto and the Bulls – one of which will likely be Brooklyn’s first-round opponent – and is now after its 15th win in 20 games. The Knicks had previously compiled a 21-40 record.
"Being the coach, I just apologize to the fans, because again, they pay their hard-earned money to come out and see us play and we didn’t come into this season expecting this," Woodson said.
His Knicks, though, have won eight of 11 on the road. They’re 3-2 thus far on a season-ending stretch of seven straight games against playoff teams from the East.