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Home court, health critical to Nets’ playoff success

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The Brooklyn Nets summer gamble has paid off.

Sure, it took some time, some tweaks, and the shedding of head coach Jason Kidd’s tie, but the Nets are right around where owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King hoped the team would be when they brought in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and others in the offseason. Brooklyn is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, just two-and-a-half games behind the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division with six games to play coming into this week. It is the same distance behind the Chicago Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

So the Nets can’t take their foot off the pedal in the season’s final week, despite the understandable urge to rest veterans like Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Any home court advantage the team can get is huge.

Brooklyn compiled a 15-game home winning streak heading into this week and are 21–2 at the Barclays Center since the turnaround began on Jan. 1. The arena has truly become their home court in the team’s second season there. The Nets are just 11–11 away from the friendly confines of Kings County in that same time frame, and is 15–23 for the entire season.

The team received a not-so-gentle reminder of that last week at Madison Square Garden when the crosstown rival Knicks carved up Brooklyn 110–81. Brooklyn’s lone win over the Chicago Bulls, the team’s likely playoff opponent, came at Barclays in February.

I got on Jason Kidd early for looking overmatched, and for jettisoning assistant coach Lawrence Frank in December. A month later, the Nets began winning at a clip better than any team in the league. Since then, Kidd has became the coach everyone believed he could be when he was hired.

Help is on the way as well. Star forward Kevin Garnett missed 19 games due to back spasms, and forward Andre Kirilenko was out for six because of sprained left ankle. Their returns are pivotal to the Nets’ playoff success. Major minutes from Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston and Marcus Thorton in the post season doesn’t scream world title contender. If the Nets get out of the first round, the team can give the Bulls and Heat a stiff test in the conference semifinals.

To do so, the Nets will have to get healthy, and get as many games at the Barclays Center as possible. The two things may be at odds with each other with so little time left, but will go along way if accomplished.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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