It was a game the Nets had to have.
And they flew down to South Beach and took it.
The stakes were greater Saturday night at FTX Arena than they’ve been at any point this season: Win and leapfrog the Miami Heat in the standings for sole ownership of the Eastern Conference’s final guaranteed playoff seed.
Lose and the gap between the Nets and Heat would widen, moving Brooklyn closer to a sudden-death play-in tournament reality no playoff hopeful wants to live.
And after five straight losses, including four in a row at home, the Nets secured a signature victory in a 129-100 romp over the Heat on Saturday. It marked both the largest margin of victory and the most points scored against the Heat in franchise history.
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The Nets have swept the Heat in the season series, 4-0.
It was a critical victory because the worst of the Nets’ hellacious post-All-Star break schedule has passed — save for the season finale at home against a championship-contending Philadelphia 76ers team.
The Nets now have the second-easiest remaining schedule. They play the Orlando Magic in the second leg of a back-to-back on Sunday, then play six of their last seven games at Barclays Center.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, however, doesn’t like to look that far down the road. His message to the team had been to focus on the task of the day.
On Saturday, that meant securing a victory in a must-win game. Against a Heat team that had won four of its last five and seven of its last 10, the Nets were supposed to have their work cut out for them.
And early into the night, it looked like Brooklyn’s losing streak was headed for loss No. 6. Miami made 13 of its first 16 shot attempts and jumped out to an early 14-point lead.
Midway through the second quarter, a flip switched. The Nets started getting stops and the hot-shooting Heat cooled off.
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Brooklyn held Miami to just 31 points in the second half and just 13 points in the fourth quarter.
All five Nets starters scored in double figures, led by Mikal Bridges, who finished with 27 points and seven assists. Cam Johnson broke free from a shooting slump and hit five threes for 23 points, and Nic Claxton added 14 points and 10 rebounds, including an alley-oop tomahawk poster dunk over Heat forward Caleb Martin.
Spencer Dinwiddie tallied 15 points and nine assists, and reserve guard Edmond Sumner stepped in for the absent Seth Curry (personal reasons) and contributed 12 points off the bench.
The Nets led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter for one of their most convincing victories since the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.
Thursday’s victory moved the Nets a half-game ahead of the Heat for sole ownership of the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed.
The win moves the Nets out of the play-in tournament with only eight games remaining on the schedule.
The Nets are also only a game-and-a-half behind the Knicks, who hold the East’s No. 5 seed and own the fourth-lightest remaining schedule in the NBA.