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Nets ready for Bulls after beating Pistons

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- After a full week of uncertainty about which team they might face in the NBA playoffs and when, the New Jersey Nets learned their fate Wednesday night.

The Nets, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, will face the fifth-seeded Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven series that will begin Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center.

"It's going to be fun," said Nets center Brook Lopez, who scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in just 21 minutes of action Wednesday night in the Nets' 103-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons at the Barclays to close out the regular season.

"They're a physical team, an aggressive team," Lopez said of the Bulls. "We have to try to outrebound them and match their intensity."

Nets point guard Deron Williams agreed.

"It's going to be a tough battle," said Williams, who had eight points and six assists in 21 minutes Wednesday. "They beat us three times this season, so anything can happen in a seven-game series. I'm definitely excited about the fact that we're all playing at our highest level right now. When we do that, we're really tough to beat."

It will mark the first time in Lopez's career that he has headed to the playoffs.

"It's hard for me to put into words," Lopez said. "It's been so great this season, exceeding all of my expectations. I'm really excited for the first playoff game this weekend. Our emotions are really high, and I'm glad we were able to close out the regular season the right way."

Lopez led the Nets in what was basically a tune-up for the playoffs.

Brooklyn improved to 49-33. It marks the franchise's best win total since winning 49 in 2005-06 and tied the team's mark for the second-most wins in a season.

The Nets are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.

The win also gave interim coach P.J. Carlesimo a 35-19 record since taking over for Avery Johnson in December; it's the best start of any coach in franchise history. It also gave the Nets a 31-5 record against teams with records below .500.

It was a game in which Carlesimo got his starters some playing time after six players, including the team's top three scorers, sat out the win over Washington on Monday. Carlesimo wanted to get his starters about 20 minutes of action, and basically that's what Lopez, Joe Johnson (10 points) and Williams got. All three played 21 minutes for the winners.

"What we did with the first unit is give them a good run and they did a good job," Carlesimo said. "We got out of it healthy. It was good to get a win and it was the most we were over .500 all year."

Andray Blatche scored 15 points and Kris Humphries 11 for the Nets.

With 23 points off the bench, Will Bynum paced the Pistons, who finished the season with a 29-53 record. Andre Drummond added 13 for Detroit.

The Nets took the lead for good in the closing minutes of the first quarter, going on a 16-2 run to take a 29-18 lead. Lopez had 10 points in the first quarter and Gerald Wallace provided a little bit of everything --scoring two baskets on dunks and collecting three rebounds and two assists, all in the final four minutes.

The Pistons made a bit of a run and sliced the lead to 52-45 with 2:08 remaining in the half, but Mirza Teletovic made his presence felt, draining two long 3-pointers and hitting a mid-range jumper that pushed the lead back into double digits. Teletovic scored all eight of his points of the first half in just a span of six minutes.

The Nets led 60-48 at the half. Johnson nailed two consecutive long 3-pointers, the second from 27 feet, to push the lead to 72-54 with 7:54 remaining in the period.

The Nets led by as many as 21 in the third quarter as they were in complete command.

The Pistons cut the lead to 103-99 with a late 11-0 run. Kim English made one of two free throws with 44 seconds left to give the Pistons a chance, but a missed free throw and turnover hurt the cause. Teletovic made a huge block in the closing seconds to secure the win.

Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who remains the Nets' franchise all-time leader in coaching victories, seemed relieved to end the season. His wife, Susan, has been battling a series of medical issues, and he traveled back and forth from Michigan to his home in New Jersey several times to be with her.

"This has been a very tough season, both professionally and personally," said Frank, who missed six games to tend to his wife. "Could we have won more games? Of course. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. There are definite things we need to address. At this point, you just thank the guys for their effort. We finished on a positive note (winning four out of their last five games) and we stayed together."

NOTES: Reggie Evans finished sixth in the NBA in rebounding with 11.1 per game. ... Williams finished fifth in assists at 7.8 per game. ... Pistons C Andre Drummond and Nets rebound machine Reggie Evans were embroiled in a bit of a scrum Wednesday and each received a technical foul. ... The Pistons played without G Jose Calderon (triceps) and F Jason Maxiell (detached retina). ... The entire Nets roster was dressed and ready for action.
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