Cavs, Nets enter two-game set jostling for playoff positioning
A year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets wound up meeting in the play-in tournament.
This time, the Cavaliers (45-28) are in a favorable position for the home court in the first round while the Nets (39-32) are trying to remain in the top six of the Eastern Conference to avoid a play-in game.
Cleveland can bolster its position and also negatively impact the Nets starting Tuesday night when the teams meet for consecutive games in New York. Game 2 in the set will be Thursday night.
Cleveland heads into its Brooklyn trip 2 1/2 games ahead of the fifth-place New York Knicks entering Monday's games. The Cavaliers have maintained their grip on fourth place by winning seven of their past 10 games since dropping three straight from Feb. 15-24.
Cleveland has at least 110 points in nine of its past 11 contests, including Friday's 117-94 rout of the visiting Washington Wizards. The Cavaliers survived missing 15 of 19 3-point tries by shooting 55.2 percent overall from the field, marking the 12th time they shot at least 55 percent this season.
In Friday's win, Darius Garland scored 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go with nine assists. Garland led the team in scoring despite going 1-of-5 from 3-point range, where he is 6-for-26 over his past four games.
Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points despite going 0-of-6 from 3-point range. Although Mitchell is 1-of-19 from beyond the arc in his past three games, he has three 40-point games during his past eight games.
"We're doing a lot of good things right now, and the biggest thing for us is to keep moving forward, step by step," Mitchell said. "We've got to continue to push and start getting ready for April."
Brooklyn shot 57.3 percent in its 125-117 victory in Cleveland on Dec. 26 during a 12-game winning streak to move into second in the East. Now the Nets are trying to avoid their fourth four-game losing streak and are one game ahead of the seventh-place Miami Heat.
Brooklyn's last four-game losing streak occurred Feb. 24-March 1, when the team took three double-digit losses and allowed an average of 130 points per game. The Nets followed the skid with five wins in six games, but since then they're averaging 101.7 in losses to Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Denver.
In the first game of the skid, the Nets blew a 10-point halftime lead in a 121-107 loss, but in their past two games -- against Sacramento and Denver -- Brooklyn let the game slip away in the first half. In Sunday's 108-102 loss to the Nuggets, the Nets trailed by 12 after the first quarter and 15 at halftime, and only a late push made the score respectable.
"Overall you see the start of the game," Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn said. "On our road trip we had great energy, great juice and somehow we've come home and lacked a little bit of energy and juice to start the game.
"It happened versus (Sacramento) and happened again (against Denver). So the starts of the game are important for us, just for confidence-wise, just for setting the tone."
The Nets allowed 52.5 percent shooting and were outrebounded for the 12th time in their past 15 games.
Mikal Bridges scored 23 points, marking his fifth straight game with at least 20 points, and Nic Claxton added 19, but others struggled to get into the flow. Cameron Johnson finished with 14 but shot 1-of-6 from 3-point range and is shooting 33.6 percent (36-of-107) from behind the arc as a Net.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 20, 2023