The Nets were taking on the Lakers, a team so decimated by injuries that it takes more than a few ganders at their roster just to decipher their identities. Los Angeles was minus Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, meaning this was supposed to have all the makings of a cakewalk.
Maybe that's why the Nets spent most of the game just sticking their finger in the icing and licking it off, doodling around and waiting until the final minutes to feast on the undermanned Lakers and ice a 107-99 victory Sunday in a game they led wire to wire.
Delivering the decisive blow sooner would have made things easier for the Nets. It would have allowed them to rest some of their key players because they are about to embark on a stretch of four games in five nights. They're aware they let the Lakers hang too close for too long rather than putting them away early.
"Yeah, we could have, but we knew they were going to keep fighting,'' said Brook Lopez, who had 30 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. "They're all NBA players here and they have a lot of season left, so they're not just going to throw away this game.''
Their sixth win in their last eight games, paired with the Celtics' loss to the Clippers, moved the Nets (32-40) into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of Boston. This was a win the Nets really needed, considering their upcoming week. It starts Tuesday against the Pacers before games against the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors and the conference's top team, the Hawks.
Despite seemingly being nearly finished in the postseason race during these last two weeks, the Nets control their own destiny with 10 games remaining.
"We were never out of it in the East,'' said Deron Williams, who fought through an illness and had 13 points and nine assists. "And where we are at right now on the bottom, you win four in a row and there's no telling. Teams are continuing to slide. Milwaukee hasn't been playing the best basketball. Miami is up and down and they are dealing with some injuries, and we've just got to keep on trucking, keep on trying to rack up some wins. And who knows where we can be when it's all said and done.''
Lopez is doing his part to get the Nets to the playoffs for the third straight season, topping 30-plus points for the fourth time in his last six games after doing it once in his first 56 games of the season. He averaged 28.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks these last four games.
His emphatic two-handed dunk off a pick-and-roll with Williams coming out of a timeout with 3:37 remaining vaulted the Nets to a 98-93 edge. The play virtually sealed things, and was just the latest in a series of big buckets for him.
"He knows where he's going to get shots,'' coach Lionel Hollins said. "We're playing toward him a lot in our game, and he's delivered. He's played big-time basketball. When you get 30-plus points, and in the way he's doing it night in and night out, that's huge for us.''