Fans and media may have viewed Monday’s fourth meeting between the Raptors and Nets as a battle for Atlantic Division supremacy.
If anyone was expecting some type of rah-rah statement about it being a must-win from the coach, they were disappointed.
“It’s a regular game,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We just have to protect home. You guys can deal with all the 82 games. So it’s just about winning and protecting home and keep building on what we’ve been doing this month and also for the year.”
The Nets entered their fourth meeting three games behind the surprising Atlantic Division leaders, who have won 28 of 42 games since trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento while capitalizing on the poor play of the Knicks for most of the season and the Nets for the first 31 games.
“I’m just worried about tonight’s game,” Kidd said. “The Atlantic is something that’s there but right now it’s just playing Toronto and after tonight’s game I think there’s 20 games left, so we have to take one at a time.”
As for Toronto coach Dwane Casey, he acknowledged its importance but also attempted to downplay the significance to a degree.
“All the games are important at this time of the year,” Casey said. “Again, with them being close, it puts a little more importance on it but it’s not going to make or break either of our seasons with this game tonight. We still have quite a few more games to go but us being so close and them being right behind in the standings does put a little extra importance but it’s not a do-or-die game.”
The last meeting featured Patrick Patterson stealing an inbounds pass from Deron Williams and hitting the game-winning shot, but Casey joked he didn’t remember that and couldn’t even remember Toronto’s opponents from last week.
Pierce in, Kirilenko, Garnett out
Jason Kidd admitted he thought Paul Pierce would be out after injuring his right shoulder trying to defend Sacramento’s first basket on Sunday. When Kidd went to inquire about Pierce’s availability with the starting forward, he heard the answer he was not expecting to get.
“I thought he was out and this is the kind of player and competitor he is, he wants to play,” Kidd said. “So the concern at any position you take a pounding no matter what. He’s a pro and he wants to help this team win and he understands how important he is to the team.”
Pierce has been dealing with a shoulder issue recently, partially due to the pounding power forwards often take but impressed Kidd.
“When I saw him, he said nope [I’m playing],” Kidd said. “So it was a surprise to all of us but that’s Paul. He wants to play. Hurt or not hurt, that’s just who he is.”
“Not in my mind,” Pierce said when asked if he considered not playing. “I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. I had my shoulder worked on this morning. I knew the implications of the game.”
Kevin Garnett also missed a sixth game with back spasms. The team originally planned to play him, but he was scratched just before tip-off.
“He tightened up, so we pulled the plug on him,” Kidd said. “We will see how he feels tomorrow.”
The Nets were also without Andrei Kirilenko, who sprained his right ankle in the third quarter Sunday.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.