Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said he felt his team needed to treat Saturday’s visit to the Miami Heat as a single-elimination NCAA Tournament game.
After their impressive comeback, the Nets will attempt to enhance their chances at avoiding a play-in game Sunday night when they visit the Orlando Magic.
Brooklyn (40-34) is a half-game up on the Heat in their bid for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Nets also are 1 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks in a bid to finish fifth in the East.
The Nets are back in their favorable position in the race because of what unfolded in a 129-100 win on Saturday against Miami. Brooklyn dominated the second half to pull off its biggest margin of victory since a 36-point home win over the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 2.
“You see how this March Madness is and you’re one (loss) and you’re done,” Vaughn said. “And that’s part of it. I have not discussed any of the standings with this group. Really, we have gone day to day and tried to get a win.”
Brooklyn’s previous five bids to get a win culminated in Thursday’s 116-114 loss to the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets allowed a last-second 3-pointer by Isaac Okoro after holding an eight-point lead with 2:13 remaining.
In Miami, the Nets cut a 14-point deficit down to four by halftime. Then Brooklyn opened with a 31-6 run to start the third quarter and outscored Miami 64-31 in the second half.
“Coming in I thought it was a must-win, I thought the whole locker room did,” Brooklyn’s Cameron Johnson said. “This is as close to a playoff game with big implications as you’ll get in the regular season. So this was a big one for us.”
Mikal Bridges and Johnson helped the Nets successfully avoid losing even more ground. Bridges scored 27 points while Johnson added 23 and hit five of Brooklyn’s 18 3-pointers.
Orlando (31-43) holds flickering hopes at qualifying for the play-in game. The Magic head into play Sunday 4 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Chicago Bulls while needing to surpass the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards.
The Magic are seeking to win three in a row for the first time since putting six straight victories together from Dec. 7-18.
Orlando has been off since following up a 122-112 home win over Washington on Tuesday with a 111-106 win over the visiting New York Knicks on Thursday. It marked the fourth time in the past five games that the Magic played a game decided by six points or fewer.
“Honestly I feel like we haven’t played a game this year that wasn’t meaningful,” rookie Paolo Banchero said after his 21-point performance versus the Knicks. “Every game has been competitive. Teams trying to get into playoff position are desperate and it makes it more fun when the level gets raised. We’re happy to compete.”
Brooklyn took the first meeting when it posted a 109-102 home victory on Nov. 28. It has won nine of the past 12 encounters.