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Nets' Atlantic Division hopes fading

Deron Williams called the Nets' losses in Denver and Utah "disappointing." AP Photo/George Frey

The Brooklyn Nets are heading home for a rest, having gone 4-3 over the first seven games of their eight-game circus road trip.

But should they be satisfied?

Just two days ago, the Nets were 4-1, likely hoping for at least a split in Denver and Utah.

They didn’t get it.

And now they trail the New York Knicks (45-26) by five games in the loss column with nine games remaining.

Even without Joe Johnson (right quad/left heel) for four of the games, the Nets (42-30) could’ve very well gone 6-1.

But Chris Paul erupted for 17 points in the fourth quarter of their 101-95 loss to the Clippers on March 23. And then there was the third quarter on Saturday night, in which Randy Foye drained five 3-pointers and they were outscored 31-20 by the Jazz.

Just like that, 6-1 turned into 4-3, and the gap in the Atlantic Division race looks pretty insurmountable.

“These last two were disappointing,” Deron Williams told reporters in Utah following Brooklyn’s 116-107 loss. “That’s what happens on a long road trip. You talk about it not happening, and then it happens.”

You never want to say never. But then you realize the Knicks have won seven in a row, and you figure a lot of things have to go right in order for the Nets to leapfrog them.

Now, the best the Nets likely can hope for is the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. And they’ll have to stave off the Atlanta Hawks (41-33) and Chicago Bulls (39-32) to keep that spot.

Win that series, and the Nets would take on the top-seeded/defending champion Miami Heat in Round 2 ...

Two weeks ago, if you would’ve told the Nets they’d be heading back home with a 4-3 record before finishing off the 17-day trip in Cleveland, they probably would’ve been happy to take it.

And now? Well, they just have to hope Johnson can get healthy and ready for the postseason. Because if things don’t change drastically -- and it doesn’t appear that they will -- Brooklyn’s road to the Finals is going to be an awful daunting one.

“Today is probably the best it’s felt since right before the All-Star break,” Johnson told reporters. “I feel good. I’m able to cut and kind of get up and down the floor, man, and be pain free to an extent. We’re just working, man, trying to stay on top of it in workouts.”