Nets inch closer to playoff spot with victory over Timberwolves

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce and the Nets locked up a playoff bid.
Credit: Getty Images

On many possessions for the Nets on offense, the routine consists of the ball touching the paint and then finding its way around the perimeter.

As a help defender attempts to switch, someone is open and it results in a 3-pointer for the Nets.

That’s among the many things driving the now three-month resurgence for the Nets, who have gone from being written off to on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.

Another good showing from behind the arc — combined with a strong defensive fourth quarter — meant the Nets equaled a franchise record with their 13th straight home win by pulling away for a 114-99 victory over the Timberwolves on Sunday night.

“I think we’re the most dangerous team in the NBA on [3-pointers],” Mirza Teletovic said. “We have so many shooters and it kind of opens the paint.”

“I’ve played on a lot of teams, but it’s great when you can step out there and the next guy can knock down a shot and the next guy and guys coming off the bench,” Paul Pierce said after hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 22 points. “That’s our strength. We’re a penetrate, kick, 3-point shooting, run up and down the court team. It’s always tough when we’re not hitting our shots but for the most part, we’ve been hitting our shots for the last month or so.”

The Nets improved to 39-33 but more significant is that they moved to 29-12 since the start of January, a time when the foot injury to Brook Lopez changed the offense from a mostly low-post game to a perimeter game.

“You play to your strengths,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “So when you look at guys who can post up like Joe [Johnson], in that third quarter he was great at running the pick-and-roll and taking advantage of that. But we’re getting a lot of great looks from three. We have quite a few guys who can make the three, it’s about the ball touching the paint and working inside-out and right now that’s what we’re doing very well.”

The Nets wound up shooting 12-of-33 (36.4 percent) from behind the arc, including four of their first six attempts in the fourth quarter. The Wolves were within 85-84 but after three 3-pointers from Alan Anderson and one by Paul Pierce, it went from being a tight game to being up 103-90 with five minutes to go.

The ability to spread the floor allowed the Nets to top 100 points in their eighth straight game, something the team last accomplished during the 1986-87 season. They’ve also shot 42.5 percent (137-of-322) from behind the arc since missing 26-of-30 attempts March 7 in Boston.

“It’s great,” Anderson said. “The ball movement is going to help us out a lot as far as getting far in the playoffs. It just makes it easier, 1-on-1 versus 1-on-5. As soon as someone helps, you got the open guy who can hit the look.”

“We stress really getting the ball inside and then playing out,” Livingston said. “As long as the ball touches the paint, hard threes, hard shots, they’re good shots.”

At the minimum, the Nets will need one more win to clinch a playoff spot but that’s only if the Knicks lose to Golden State. They remained 2 1/2 behind Toronto, 1 1/2 behind Chicago and 1 1/2 up on Washington.

Regardless of where they wind up, the mood is different from the first two months when shoulders sagged anytime the opponent made a run, especially in the third quarter. The change was noticeable late in the third quarter when the Nets made stops and got good looks.

“It just says a lot about this team, I think,” Deron Williams said. “We stuck together. There was no finger-pointing, bickering or anything like that that you would have on most teams that were in that situation. I think that’s what allowed us to make this turnaround and we’re playing so well together. We stayed together in this locker room and kept playing for each other. I think that’s why we’re playing so well right now.”

Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.



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