The slide might ultimately strengthen their resolve later in the playoffs, However, in the short term, it threatens to torpedo the Nets’ chances of getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Irving poured in a season-high 45 points Thursday, but Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks prevailed 113-109. The Nets fell 2½ games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for first place in the East with five left to play. Their hold on the second spot is tenuous too; the Nets are just a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, who just clinched the tiebreaker between the teams with two wins over Brooklyn earlier this week.
“It’s about time we got tested,” Irving said. “I think it’s good that we have these tests now, these challenges. It’s been too easy at times. So it’s good.”
Nets coach Steve Nash agreed and said it can be good for a team to feel pressure.
“You’re going to face pressure in the playoffs and you have to be pressure-tested,” Nash said. “This is a little bit of pressure for us, a little bit of a hole for us to dig out of. How can we solve this riddle? How can we get over the line in some of these games?”
Brooklyn has a favorable schedule down the stretch, with just one of their remaining five games against a team currently over .500. Philadelphia has an even easier schedule though, according to tankathon.com.
After another disappointing loss Thursday, the Nets said they just need to focus on detail and execution, especially in the fourth quarter.
“We need to be tested like that,” Irving said. “We’re not a perfect basketball club. I don’t think we would be doing ourselves a great service if we weren’t honest. We haven’t played well in terms of spurts throughout the game, especially when it matters. We’ve just got to get better continuity down the stretch.”
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:
Lakers keep stumbling
LeBron James has said many times that playoff seeding ultimately doesn’t matter for the Los Angeles Lakers. We’re very close to seeing just how true that is. After being routed by the Los Angeles Clippers 118-94 on Thursday, the Lakers have lost seven of nine and dropped to sixth place in the Western Conference. And they could be danger of falling even further down the standings. They have clinched at least a spot in the new play-in tournament, but they’re locked in a tight race to secure a top-six seed. James has missed the last two games, and Anthony Davis left Thursday’s loss early with back spasms.
The Lakers have said all along that health is their top priority. Davis reiterated that the Lakers remain the team to beat once they have a fully healthy roster. “When we’re 100% healthy, we are the top team in the league, so we keep that in our minds,” Davis said.
Coming for Oscar’s record
Another game, another triple-double for Russell Westbrook. The Washington Wizards star had 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists Thursday for his 180th career triple-double, one behind Oscar Robertson’s all-time record. Westbrook helped the Wizards hold off the Raptors 131-129 in overtime and maintain 10th place in the Eastern Conference, but the night epitomized his game as a whole in a way. He stuffed the stat sheet with a triple-double but shot 5-of-19 from the field and committed seven turnovers.
“I didn’t think he played one of his better games, but look at the numbers,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. Westbrook has 34 triple-doubles on the season, including 24 in the last 31 games.
Pelicans making late push
The New Orleans Pelicans’ playoff hopes seemed cooked just a couple weeks ago, but they’re making things interesting in the final stretch. The Pelicans have won four of six to pull within 1½ games of the 10th-place San Antonio Spurs for the final spot in the new play-in tournament. The Spurs have helped with five straight losses, and their remaining schedule could do New Orleans another favor. San Antonio has seven games left, and six are against teams currently in playoff position.
“To me, the biggest positive is our guys’ resilience,” said Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy. “They keep coming back. And every time people are tempted to sort of write them off and expecting a big letdown, it hasn’t happened. So I think that speaks to the character of this group and I don’t know if there’s anything more important.”
Game of the night: Lakers at Blazers
Fatigued, stumbling and banged-up, the Lakers head to Portland for a game that suddenly has enormous implications for the playoff picture. The Lakers and Blazers are tied for sixth place in the Western Conference at 37-29, and they’ve split their first two meetings this season. Thursday’s winner will clinch the tiebreaker between the teams and take the inside track for the No. 6 seed in the West. The loser will drop to seventh, the top spot in the play-in tournament. LeBron James is expected to be out, and Anthony Davis’ status is uncertain after experiencing back spasms Thursday.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nets not fretting over four-game losing skid, thinks it’s a good test