Wizards meet Nets with playoff hopes in the distance

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Wizards last met in Washington on Feb. 26, Bradley Beal did not take the last shot and nobody had heard of a location called the NBA bubble.

They will see each other more than five months later on Sunday afternoon, this time with the Nets as the home team in a meeting between the eighth and ninth seeds in the Eastern Conference. Like all teams in the restarted season, they will play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

The Nets (30-35) won’t have to concern themselves with Beal, the All-Star guard who opted out of the league’s resumption due to a sore shoulder after averaging 30.5 points per game on the season. In the last meeting the Wizards (24-41) posted a 110-106 win when Jerome Robinson got a pass from Beal with 8.4 seconds left and hit the game-winning 3-pointer.

Two weeks later the league was paused when Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. When the league announced plans for a restart, it invited 22 teams — the top eight seeds in every conference plus six teams within six games of the final spot.

Neither team began the resumption on a good note.

Washington absorbed a 125-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday afternoon when its defense allowed 52.5 percent shooting.

With Beal out, Washington’s starting backcourt was comprised of Troy Brown Jr. and Shabazz Napier, who combined for 27 points. Rookie Rui Hachimura led the Wizards with 21 points while Robinson added 20 when he wasn’t defending Phoenix star Devin Booker.

“Offensively, I thought he played a little bit at the right pace,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Robinson. “He has some good speed. He has some ball-handling ability.”

Washington did not lose ground with the loss. The Wizards simply switched who they are chasing for the eighth seed for a possible play-in game.

The Wizards are now six games behind the Nets, who started off well, but were dominated in the third quarter before making the final minutes respectable in a 128-118 loss to seventh-place Orlando (31-35) on Friday.

“It’s definitely disappointing, we put in all of the work, put in those hours, and then we come out like that,” Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen said. “It’s deflating, but we have to come out and play our game. We’re very capable of responding as a team.”

Brooklyn allowed 59.1 percent shooting through three quarters and trailed by as many as 30 as the Nets took their first loss since Jacque Vaughn took over for Kenny Atkinson on March 7. The Nets won their final game before the shutdown on Spencer Dinwiddie’s game-winner over the Lakers, 104-102, on March 10 but he is out along with DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince, who all tested positive for the virus.

Without Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert is expected to be Brooklyn’s top scoring option. LeVert averaged 27.4 points in the final five games before the pause and scored 17 Friday.

LeVert was 7 of 17 from the field Friday when the Nets were outscored 75-43 in the second and third quarters as Brooklyn did not adjust when Orlando emphasized keeping the ball away from him.

“I think there’s no hiding that he is the focal point of the offense, so we’ll make some adjustments that way,” Vaughn said.

Playing shorthanded, Brooklyn’s starting lineup is different from the last meeting with Washington. In that game, LeVert scored 34 points while Dinwiddie added 18, but on Sunday, Brooklyn likely will use Lance Thomas and Chris Chiozza as starters alongside Joe Harris, Allen and LeVert.

Before the shutdown, Washington also won the first meeting between the clubs 113-107 on Feb. 1.

–Field Level Media

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