The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble as the teams likely to secure the seventh and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference.
When the Nets (34-36) get together with the Magic (32-39) on Tuesday afternoon near Orlando, it will essentially be a rehearsal for the postseason.
The Nets are 4-2 since the restart. They opened play with a blowout loss to Orlando on July 31 before collecting wins over elite opponents like the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.
Brooklyn secured the seventh place and a date with the Toronto Raptors for the playoffs. The Nets clinched seventh on Sunday with a 129-120 win over the Clippers.
“To clinch seventh was big for us, obviously,” Brooklyn guard Garrett Temple said. “We wanted to play whoever was going to be in that second spot, obviously it’s Toronto. We feel confident.
“We’re confident. If we play the right way, if we play like we’ve been playing the last two or three games, share the ball, get stops, even though they turn people over, if we’re able to take care of it and do what we’ve been doing, we have a chance to win some games.”
Caris LeVert has shined since the resumption, and he starred again Sunday when he scored 27 points to go along with a career-high 13 assists. LeVert’s play is a continuation of what he did before the league was paused for four-plus months as he averaged 27.4 points in five games in March.
The Nets are 6-2 under interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson on March 7. They also are 8-3 in their last 11 games dating to March 3 when LeVert scored a career-high 51 points in an overtime win at Boston.
Orlando began the restart by winning its first two games before seeing its losing streak reach four following a 122-119 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
The Magic have lost each game by 11 points or less and struggled with late-game execution in the last two contests.
On Sunday, Orlando squandered a five-point lead in the final 5:14 of regulation and then went 6-for-23 from the rest of the way. That collapse occurred after the Magic shot 34.8 percent in the fourth quarter of a 108-101 loss to Philadelphia on Friday.
“I just told them in the locker room that it wasn’t the effort I was looking for,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. “We made a bunch of shots, but it’s got to be better than that.”
Among the things Clifford is hoping to clean up are rebounding and second-chance points. Orlando allowed 13 offensive rebounds against Boston, resulting in 17 second-chance points.
Sunday’s struggles to get offensive rebounds was a continuation of Friday’s loss when the Magic allowed 15 offensive boards and gave up 21 second-chance points.
Orlando will be without guard Terrence Ross after he left the NBA campus to undergo off-site medical tests not related to COVID-19, according to the club. Ross scored 18 points in 37 minutes against Boston.
The team has played the last two games without Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) and he is listed as doubtful against the Nets. Gordon was injured after being fouled by Kyle Lowry in Wednesday’s loss to Toronto.
Evan Fournier (illness) is doubtful after missing Sunday’s game. Fellow guard Michael Carter-Williams (foot) also is doubtful after missing the past three games.
Nikola Vucevic scored 26 points Sunday and has led Orlando in scoring twice in the restart. Gary Clark has started the past two games for Gordon with mixed results, as he scored 15 points on Sunday after mustering just three two days earlier.
The Magic are vying going for the season sweep on Tuesday. They held the Nets to 89 points in a 12-point home win on Jan 6, rallied from 19 down in Brooklyn on Feb. 24 and shot 52.9 percent and led by as many as 30 on July 31.
–Field Level Media