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Streaking Cavs set to take on slumping Nets

Mar 21, 2023; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Dorian Finney-Smith (28) shoots the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) during the second half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

While the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be peaking at the right time in a bid to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason, an ill-timed losing streak may force the Brooklyn Nets into playing at least one extra game to reach the playoffs.

Cleveland goes for the sweep of the two-game set and attempts to continue its recent surge Thursday night in Brooklyn, where the Nets are hoping to avoid a season-worst fifth straight loss.

Cleveland (46-28) is in good shape to clinch home-court in the postseason for the first time since 2018 in LeBron James’ final season of his second stint. The Cavaliers already had surpassed last year’s win total when they lost to the Nets in a play-in game. Following Tuesday’s 115-109 victory over the Nets, they moved 3 1/2 games ahead of the fifth-place New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference, entering Wednesday.

Cleveland is 8-3 over its past 11 games since losing three straight Feb. 15-24. On Tuesday, the Cavs trailed by seven in the first quarter, took control in the second quarter and pulled away in the third before allowing a 24-point lead to get sliced down in the final minutes before struggling in the final minutes.

“It just took us a minute to get into the game,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Once we started moving the ball, the game became simple offensively for us and everybody got involved. I thought we played Cavaliers basketball. I think that’s the way we’ve got to play.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting, including a thunderous dunk in the second half. He also made five of Cleveland’s 14 3-pointers after being 1 of 19 from behind the arc in his previous three games.

While Cleveland’s desired opponent may be the Nets, Brooklyn (39-33) entered 2 1/2 games behind the Knicks and a half-game up on the Miami Heat.

Brooklyn has not held a lead in the second half in any of its past three games as it trailed by 17 last Thursday in a five-point loss to the Sacramento Kings and 22 in a six-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

The Nets are on their second four-game losing streak of the season. The other was Feb. 24-March 1 and the Nets followed it up by winning five of six, including wins at Boston and Denver.

Since their two-point win in Denver on March 12, the Nets are averaging 103.5 points while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. Perhaps more concerning for Brooklyn is its 3-point accuracy has started to falter as Tuesday’s 27.3 percent showing (9-for-33) was the fourth time since the All-Star break it failed to shoot 30 percent or better from behind the arc.

During the losing streak, the Nets are shooting 31.8 percent from 3-point range. Among those struggling from 3-point range is Mikal Bridges, who was 0-for-8 on Tuesday and is 5-for-23 over his past three games.

“We’re a team that has to shoot 3s,” said Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn, whose team is shooting 38.1 percent overall from 3, fourth-best in the NBA. “That’s how we’re comprised. We have to make them.”

–Field Level Media