Nets lose 4th in a row; rally late and fall short to Cavs, 115-109

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — No wonder the Cavaliers want the Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this season.

If that hypothetical series goes anything like the Nets’ 115-109 loss to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, Cleveland may as well own a first-round bye.

Reports emerged out of Cleveland on March 17 suggesting Cavaliers personnel prefer to face the reeling Nets in the first round of the playoffs over any other opponent. Hours later, the Cavs handed the Nets their fourth loss in a row in a game that never truly felt close.

Cavs All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland combined for 48 points, and Cleveland’s pair of seven-footers in Evan Mobley and former Net Jarrett Allen created an imposing presence against an undersized Brooklyn team that ranks second-to-last in the league in rebounding.

The Nets were quite simply outmatched. They led 30-23 entering the second quarter before the Cavaliers outscored them, 53-32, to take a 24-point lead in the third period.

And they succumbed to the same kind of star power they shipped out at the trade deadline when the Spida Mitchell show aired at The Clays Tuesday evening.

Mitchell finished with a game-high 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field. In the second quarter, the Cavs star made threes on back-to-back possessions and pulled up for a third that was blocked from behind by his old Utah Jazz teammate Royce O’Neale.

At the top of the fourth, Mitchell attacked reserve forward Yuta Watanabe and put him on a poster with a vicious one-handed tomahawk that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Yet as favorable a matchup as the Cavs reportedly find the Nets, the reverse also rings true: The Nets’ long-shot road to a second-round playoff appearance — provided they qualify for postseason play and retain playoff status through the final 10 regular season games — sees its most efficient, and realistic route with early pit stops through Cleveland.

“If I had the choice of playing a team that just got put together three weeks ago versus playing Giannis [Antetokounmpo], or something of that nature…I mean, I think that’d be the most logical answer you could give,” starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie said in a recent podcast appearance. “So, I don’t think it’s bulletin board material.”

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Nets (39-33) to just a half-game in front of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat. If the Heat are able to secure a victory against the Knicks on Wednesday, they will leapfrog the Nets in the standings.

The Nets also play the Heat in Miami after Thursday’s encore matchup against the Cavaliers, then play a long, athletic and spry Orlando Magic team on the road the following night.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said he hadn’t read reports that the Cavaliers want his team in the first-round of the playoffs, but it’s clear Brooklyn has its work cut out if it’s going to qualify for the postseason at all.

“I really try to tell the guys to look at it as today’s game. That’s really how I approached it this morning during shootaround. That’s kinda been my message, I’ll say that again today: take care of today’s work and we’ll move onto the next day,” he said. “I really haven’t looked at it as a series or a potential matchup. I don’t know who you’re gonna play in this thing, in the West or the East. Each night you wake up and there’s a different score than you thought there was gonna be with two teams playing. One team plays a double overtime then they go out the next night and win a game. You’re like, ‘how’d they do that on a back-to-back?’ You don’t know who’s gonna win, who you’re gonna play, that’s why you worry about today’s work.”

Ex-Net Caris LeVert finished with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, and Allen, the former Nets star big man, tallied 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Dinwiddie finished with 19 points and 11 assists, and Mikal Bridges posted 18 points but missed all eight of his attempts from downtown.

The Nets now prepare to face the same Cavs team again, as if this were a playoff series with a repeat matchup two days later. If this were a playoff series, the Nets would be underdogs, a status that will likely remain in Brooklyn for the rest of the season.


Nets backup center Moses Brown has yet to play a minute in Brooklyn. Brown is now five days into his 10-day contract with the Nets but his 7-2 frame has not maneuvered its way into Vaughn’s rotation.

Second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe got the nod on Tuesday and recorded his fourth career double-double in the loss to the Cavaliers off the bench behind Nic Claxton. Sharpe set a new career-high in scoring with 20 points and 11 rebounds and hit a three to make it a five-point game in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.