Nets, Raptors duel with playoff seeding on the line

NBA

Playoff implications are at stake for the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors when the teams meet Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.

The host Raptors (26-35) are on the second half of a back-to-back and seeking their sixth win in the last seven games. The current run, extended with a 112-96 rout of Cleveland on Monday, has Toronto in the hunt for a berth in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

The Raptors trail Washington by a game for the 10th seed and final play-in berth after the Wizards fell to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.

Role players should be crucial to Toronto’s playoff push, and both rookie Malachi Flynn and recently acquired Khem Birch are coming off strong performances. Flynn scored 18 points on Monday, while Birch — signed April 10 after being waived by Orlando — matched his career-high with 14 points.

“It’s a tight race, so every game is basically a playoff game right now,” Birch told TSN in his postgame interview. “Hopefully we can continue this (Tuesday).”

Brooklyn (41-20) holds a one-game lead over Philadelphia for the best record in the East, and home-court advantage through at least the Eastern Conference Finals. The Nets’ visit to Amalie Arena, Toronto’s temporary home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, kicks off a treacherous stretch for the Raptors’ postseason aspirations.

Brooklyn is the first of five straight Toronto opponents with at least 36 wins on the season. The Raptors are playing for a season sweep of the Nets, however, winning previous matchups on Feb. 5 in Brooklyn, 123-117, and April 21 in Tampa, 114-103.

Pascal Siakam buoyed Toronto in both wins with 33 and 27 points, while Kyle Lowry hit for 30 points in the first meeting. The Raptors have yet to see the Nets when all three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were in the lineup.

Harden has logged just a little more than four minutes of game time in April. The Nets issued a statement last week that said Harden suffered “a setback” while rehabilitating his injured hamstring.

Durant and Irving, meanwhile, are coming off performances of 33 and 34 points in Sunday’s 128-119 win over Phoenix. Durant came off the bench and didn’t check in until the second quarter after missing the previous three games.

He was pulled after a little more than four minutes at Miami on April 18 with a thigh injury.

“Coach (Steve Nash) asked if I wanted to start or come off the bench. I felt it’d be a bigger challenge for me to focus in and lock in if I came off the bench, so I wanted to see how that worked,” Durant said in his postgame press conference. “If I’d shot (badly), I probably would have been (upset) that I came off the bench…but it was a solid exercise for me to get back into the swing of things.”

Durant, who has appeared in just 25 games this season, shot 12-of-21 on Sunday. His 33 points were his most since hitting for 37 on Jan. 31.

Although Durant returned, Brooklyn faces an assortment of other absences from its lineup on Tuesday. Bruce Brown is out with a knee injury, Nicolas Claxton and Alize Johnson are sidelined due to health and safety protocols, and Chris Chiozza has been out since April 14 after having hand surgery.

Toronto played Monday without Gary Trent Jr. (leg), Jalen Harris (hip) and Paul Watson (knee). Chris Boucher, the NBA’s fifth-leading shot blocker at 1.9 per game, sustained a sprained MCL early into the last matchup with Brooklyn.

–Field Level Media

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