Playoff-focused Nets to face eliminated Bulls

NBA Basketball

The Brooklyn Nets will be looking to solidify their playoff seeding while the visiting Chicago Bulls will try to finish another year out of the postseason on a positive note when the teams meet on Saturday.

The Chicago Bulls (30-40) were eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night when the Washington Wizards (33-38) clinched a spot in the play-in tournament with a 120-105 win over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.

Chicago will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season and for the fifth time in the past six years. It’s the team’s longest postseason drought since a six-year gap following the end of the Michael Jordan dynasty that brought the franchise six titles.

The Bulls made a late-season push for the playoffs, going 4-1 over their past five games. The one loss was a 115-107 setback at home to the Nets on Tuesday when Chicago never led and trailed by as many as 19 before making a late run.

“We had a really, really slim chance and we took that upon ourselves to try to make it happen,” Zach LaVine said earlier this week.

LaVine scored 41 points against the Nets on Tuesday, then scored 24 on Thursday when the Bulls led by as many as 24 and posted a 114-102 home win over the Toronto Raptors. Lauri Markkanen hit six 3-pointers against the Raptors and added 20 points, while Coby White contributed 17 and Nikola Vucevic had 16 points with 16 rebounds.

Brooklyn (46-24) can finish no higher than second in the Eastern Conference after the Philadelphia 76ers (48-23) clinched the No. 1 seed with a win over the visiting Orlando Magic on Friday.

The Nets, who conclude the regular season against the visiting Cavaliers on Sunday, are a game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks (45-25). However, if the teams finish tied, the Bucks will get the higher seed because they have the tiebreaker by virtue of winning two of the teams’ three regular-season meetings.

The Bucks host the Miami Heat (39-31) on Saturday and close the regular season at Chicago on Sunday.

While seeding might be one priority for Brooklyn, getting some minutes for its superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving is another. Due to injuries and rest, the group has played just seven games totaling 186 minutes together this season, and coach Steve Nash said he expects all of them to play Saturday. Durant, Harden and Irving have not played together since mid-February.

On Tuesday, the Nets beat the Bulls in Harden’s last game of an 18-game absence due to a strained right hamstring, but lost Irving to a facial contusion in the third quarter.

A night later, Harden returned against the San Antonio Spurs and produced 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in 26 minutes as a reserve in a 128-116 victory. Eight players scored in double figures for the Nets on Wednesday, and they trailed in the game only briefly.

“It’s great that he’s going to get at least another game in for his confidence, his reps, that rhythm that we keep talking about,” Nash said of Harden. “It’s really important as a player, especially going into the high intensity of the postseason where people are going to be scheming and physical and the game rises.”

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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