The Brooklyn Nets have gone from disappointment to dominant, morphing from a team who were booed on their home floor, to one that rarely loses there — and pretty soon, they will also be a playoff team after another sensational start from Paul Pierce helped the Nets move to the brink of a postseason spot with a 114-99 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
Pierce scored 22 points in the Net’s franchise record-equaling 13th straight home victory.
“First part of the season was rough on us with injuries and everything that we went through,” guard Deron Williams said. “It feels good to be able to turn it around.”
Pierce scored 16 of his 22 in the first quarter, two nights after putting up 17 in the period, but although he could not keep it going — asking for a rest so he would stay fresh to defend Kevin Love — the Nets managed to net plenty more to pull away.
Joe Johnson added 19 points for the New York side, who had a 10-21 win-loss record when they reached the new year, but will clinch a playoff spot with either another victory or a defeat by the New York Knicks.
A post-season berth was viewed as a sure thing when the Nets acquired Pierce and Kevin Garnett while assembling a team that would cost more than US$180 million, but they struggled early and then lost leading scorer Brook Lopez to a season-ending foot injury.
“I think a lot of teams with bad character, bad leadership in the locker room would’ve laid down a long time ago, but not this group,” Pierce said.
With the Timberwolves defeat, Brooklyn equaled the longest home winning streak in the NBA this season and the best in the history of the franchise, a feat done twice in 2002 when the Nets were still based in New Jersey. They have won 20 of their past 22 games at the Barclays Center.
Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin scored 21 each for Minnesota, who had won two in row and were coming off the highest-scoring game in the NBA this season, when they scored a franchise-record 143 points in a rout of the Lakers on Friday.
However, on Sunday the tables were turned, with the Timberwolves netting just 17 in the fourth quarter as Brooklyn surged to the finish, while the Lakers recovered from their big loss to Minnesota with a 115-99 win over the Suns.
Elsewhere in the league, the Cavaliers kept their playoff push alive with a 90-76 win over the Indiana Pacers, who are losing their grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tristan Thompson had 16 rebounds as the Cavaliers ended a nine-game losing streak against Indiana. Cleveland came in three games behind slumping, idle Atlanta for the conference’s final playoff spot. With seven games left — six of which are against teams with losing records — the Cavaliers still have a chance.
By contrast, the Pacers are falling apart, with Sunday’s loss marking their fifth straight road defeat, and now lead Miami by one game for the East’s top record and home-court advantage.
In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant had 31 points and nine assists to help the Thunder beat Utah Jazz 116-96.
Durant scored at least 25 points for the 38th consecutive game, just two games shy of the longest streak in NBA history — a record held by Michael Jordan, who did it in 40 straight games for the Chicago Bulls in the 1986-1987 season.
Elsewhere, the Raptors had a 98-93 win over the Magic, the Chicago Bulls held off the Celtics 107-102 in Boston, the Trail Blazers beat the Grizzlies 105-98 and the New York Knicks moved within one game of the final playoff spot with an 89-84 win over Golden State.