The Nets’ five game road trip ended with a 121-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
They now travel back to Brooklyn for a four-game homestand that will define the rest of season.
Thunder All-Star star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — with help from budding star Josh Giddey and Net killer Lugentz Dort — ended Brooklyn’s impressive streak, which included convincing come-from-behind victories over two NBA championship contenders: the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets.
Tuesday provided the Nets an opportunity to secure a victory in a winnable game that could have gone a long way toward helping the team’s playoff standing.
Instead, the Nets fell short — just before the schedule takes a turn.
Gilgeous-Alexander put up his 38th 30-plus-point game of the season, Giddey recorded a triple-double, and Dort hit six threes for 24 points and nine assists.
He has scored at least 20 or more in each of his last four games against the Nets.
The Nets, who built a reputation as the best third-quarter team in basketball over the previous six games, entered halftime up 10, but finished the third quarter down eight.
Mikal Bridges finished with a team-high 34 points, and Cam Johnson added 23 on 7-of-13 shooting from the field.
The Nets led by as many as 16 points in the first half before the offense sputtered in the third quarter.
And after the Thunder found ways to dice the Net defense down the stretch, Brooklyn is set to welcome the NBA’s elite to Barclays Center for a four-game stretch sure to test the bounds of their newfound No. 1 defense.
The Nets host the Western Conference’s No. 3 Sacramento Kings on Thursday, host Nikola Jokic and the West’s No. 1 seeded Nuggets in a matinee game on Sunday, then welcome Donovan Mitchell and the Eastern Conference’s fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in back-to-back games.
The Nets just defeated the Nuggets in Denver in one of their best games of the season, but the Nuggets believe they got caught sleeping.
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The stretch then continues on the road in Miami against a Heat team that may have turned a corner by creeping into the East’s No. 7 seed, followed by a trip to Orlando hours later in the second game of a a back-to-back against a long, athletic and spry Magic team.
The Nets came out of the All-Star break with the NBA’s seventh-most difficult remaining schedule in all of basketball. They lost their first four games out of the break, then won five games in six tries before dropping the ball against the Thunder on Tuesday.
From this point on, the Nets have the 12th lightest schedule, though their upcoming six-game stretch is as difficult a slate of games any team has to face.
Brooklyn entered Tuesday in a virtual tie with the Knicks for the No. 5 seed, and the two teams are tied at 2-2 in their season series, meaning the tiebreaker criteria would come down to division record. The Knicks are 8-8 in the Atlantic Division and the Nets are 7-8 with their final division game on April 9 in Brooklyn in the season finale against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.
And if the Nets finish with a more favorable record than the Knicks in their final sprint to the postseason, they can evade the No. 3 76ers, who are three-and-a-half games ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a much more favorable first-round opponent if the Nets maintain hold of the East’s No. 5 seed.
If they don’t, with the surging Heat, there’s no guarantee the Nets hold onto six, meaning every game counts from here on out if the Hets want to stay a playoff team this season.
Starting with an upcoming stretch at Barclays Center — hosting Sacramento, Denver, and Donovan Mitchell twice — before a trip to Miami to face a motivated Heat team in the first leg of a back-to-back shortly after.