Nets tangle with Raptors amid playoff chase
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The Toronto Raptors likely will be the second seed in the Eastern Conference, with a potential first-round opponent being the Brooklyn Nets.
Or the Detroit Pistons. Or the Miami Heat. Or the Orlando Magic.
While the Raptors continue tuning up for their sixth consecutive postseason appearance with Wednesday's game at Brooklyn, the Nets are in a wild scramble to secure one of the final three seeds in the East.
The Raptors (55-23) secured their fifth Atlantic Division title in six seasons by getting 29 points from Danny Green and hitting 19 3-pointers in a 121-109 home win over the Orlando Magic on Monday. They are three games behind Milwaukee for the top spot in the East.
"There's a lot of satisfaction in it," said first-year coach Nick Nurse, who was an assistant for Dwane Casey for the other four division titles. "I know it doesn't mean a lot in this day and age, but it's not every day you win a division. That's a thumbs up, man."
Toronto has won four straight since taking a one-point home loss on an unlikely buzzer-beater by Charlotte's Jeremy Lamb on March 24. The Raptors picked up three of those wins against the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks before shooting 50 percent Monday night.
The Raptors are at the point of their season where monitoring minutes, getting rest and finding lineup combinations are priorities.
Kyle Lowry has not exceeded 30 minutes in five games after being inactive for four of five outings. Kawhi Leonard has been rested five times since March 1. Marc Gasol has started the past 11 games at center with Serge Ibaka coming off the bench.
Playing the Raptors is part of Brooklyn owning the toughest remaining schedule in the league. The Nets (39-39) head into their penultimate home game a half-game behind sixth-place Detroit, a half-game up on Miami and one game ahead of Orlando.
The Nets own head-to-head tiebreakers against Orlando and Detroit but not with Miami.
Following Wednesday, the Nets visit Milwaukee and Indiana on a back-to-back this weekend before ending the season at home next Wednesday against Miami.
Brooklyn has lost six of its past nine games since a four-game winning streak. The Nets returned home from a seven-game trip by beating Boston on Saturday but found themselves rallying from a slow start and falling short in a 131-121 home loss to Milwaukee on Monday.
"We weren't ready for that onslaught," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "Give them a lot of credit. They came with the juice and the energy.
The Nets fell to 5-11 against the top five teams in the Eastern Conference on a night when they trailed by as many as 22 points, shot 41.5 percent and committed 23 turnovers.
"We have to come out against a playoff quality opponent and try to set the tone early," Brooklyn's Joe Harris said. "We came out and dug ourselves a hole again, and it's too difficult to try and come back over the course of the game."
D'Angelo Russell registered a double-double Monday, getting 28 points and 10 rebounds. It was his 29th game with at least 20 points since Jan. 1 and his first points-rebounds double-double.
Another sign of good news for the Nets was Caris LeVert, who scored 24 points. It was his most since returning from missing three months with a foot injury.
Toronto has won 14 of the past 15 meetings with the Nets.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 2, 2019