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NY Post
New York Post
8 Apr 2023

NextImg:Nets’ playoff motivation never wavered after roster overhaul: ‘What we all wanted’

What a difference two months can make. 

After the Nets traded Kevin Durant to the Suns on the eve of the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Kyrie Irving, who already had been shipped to the Mavericks, told reporters of his former Brooklyn teammate, “I’m just glad he got out of there.” 

Since then, the Nets, led by Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, whom they received in exchange for Durant, solidified a playoff spot, clinching the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference on Friday night. 

And while Durant and the Suns are well-positioned in the Western Conference, Irving spent Friday night on the bench as the Mavericks tanked in an effort to avoid giving up their potentially high draft pick to the Knicks as part of the deal that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas in 2019. 

After the Irving and Durant trades, the Nets could have been seen as a longshot to make the playoffs.

Bridges, though, said the team didn’t use that perception as motivation. 

“No, not really,’’ Bridges said. “People talk and stuff, [but] they don’t, I mean, you don’t know. … You’re not in here every day, you’re not working hard, being in the gym every single day and [knowing] how much work we’re trying to put in. So, no, that wasn’t it. It was just to ourselves and what we all wanted. We all wanted to win and all wanted to be in the playoffs. So we just took that upon us to just work hard and [the] coaches being on us, and us listening and learning.’’ 

Mikal Bridges has elevated his game since arriving to the Nets.
Getty Images

The Nets will finish up the regular season on Sunday, when they host the 76ers before those two teams meet in the first round of the playoffs.

Third-seeded Philadelphia and the No. 6 Nets are set for a rematch of their 2019 series, which was won by the Sixers. 

At the time of the Durant deal, which came on the heels of the Nets ceding to Irving’s trade demand, general manager Sean Marks said in a statement, “After thorough evaluation of the best path forward, we believe making this trade now positions the franchise for long-term success.” 

Marks also called Bridges and Johnson “elite, ascending, versatile wings,” and noted the additional draft capital acquired in the Durant deal “provides us additional avenues to continue to acquire talent.’’ 

Bridges has exceeded nearly all expectations since arriving in Brooklyn.

He has averaged 13.2 points over his five-year NBA career, but in 26 games with the Nets, Bridges has averaged 27.2.

If the 26-year-old Bridges had maintained that pace over the course of this season, he’d currently be eighth in scoring in the league — just ahead of Irving. 

Cameron Johnson dunks during the Nets' win over the Magic on April 7.

Cameron Johnson dunks during the Nets’ win over the Magic on April 7.
Getty Images

Johnson is also scoring more than ever before, at 16.6 points per game. 

As for the package the Nets received in exchange for the disgruntled Irving, whose future is unclear with the Mavericks, Spencer Dinwiddie has dished out 9.1 assists per game, a marked improvement over his 5.3 career average.

After the win Friday, Dinwiddie, who will be a key piece to their postseason hopes, reflected on their path to get there. 

“I think it speaks to the character of the group,” Dinwiddie said of the team’s play. “The maturity, the selflessness. I think everyone came in here trying to figure out what their job is going to be and execute it to the best of their ability and push forward.’’ 

— Additional reporting by Brian Lewis