Bobcats-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

After missing a prime opportunity to pad their lead on fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets will try to take advantage of a pair of seemingly favorable matchups.

The Nets will play two teams that are out of playoff contention to wrap up their homestand, beginning with Saturday night's game against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.

Brooklyn (43-32) couldn't get past a severely short-handed Chicago team in its return from an eight-game road trip Thursday, falling 92-90. The Nets blew a 16-point lead and squandered a three-point advantage in the final 52 seconds.

"This is a game that we desperately needed considering where we are in the standings at this point,'' swingman Joe Johnson said after ending a five-game absence due to injury. "In the first half, we were pretty good. And in the second half I just didn't think we pushed the ball as much as we did in the first and play as loose as we did in the first and it hurt us."

Brook Lopez, who finished with 28 points, also missed two shots and committed a turnover in the final 33 seconds.

"It's tough, just because our team was playing so well for the majority of the game and I contributed a lot to how the final score ended up and that's definitely not something I'm happy about," Lopez said.

The loss cost Brooklyn the tiebreaker over fifth-place Chicago, which trails by just one game in the race for home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series. Sixth-place Atlanta dropped two games back with a loss to Philadelphia on Friday.

"The three of us are so close that we could leapfrog each other," interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "(The fourth seed) is so much better. (The fifth spot) is the worst you could possibly be."

The Nets will try to stay ahead of those two teams by taking care of Charlotte (18-58) and Philadelphia in the next two games.

Brooklyn, winners in six straight over the Bobcats and three in a row at home, has prevailed by a combined 37 points in this season's two matchups.

Lopez scored 26 in a 97-81 home victory Dec. 28, and Johnson and Deron Williams combined for 42 in a 99-78 win in Charlotte on March 6. Williams had a game-best 30 points Thursday,

The Bobcats are 1-18 on the road since Jan. 27 and 2-6 in their last eight overall contests after falling 89-79 to a short-handed Miami on Friday. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, but Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker combined to miss 26 of 31 shots.

"(Saturday) night is going to be a heck of a challenge because the Nets need to hold their spot," coach Mike Dunlap said. "We've got to turn the page and get to the Nets ASAP."

The Nets have won in 23 of 32 all-time matchups with the Bobcats.