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Playoff fate not just up to Nets anymore

NEW YORK -- Let's start here: The Brooklyn Nets finished the regular season 12-31 against teams .500 or better ... and they can still make the playoffs.

Playing in the wretched Eastern Conference does have its perks.

But seriously, folks: In consecutive games they had to win, the Nets got whooped.

On Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee, they lost 96-73 to Jason Kidd's Bucks. On Monday night at home, they lost 113-86 to the Chicago Bulls.

Add it up, and that's 50 points worth of must-win losses.

The Nets already didn't have control over their first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Now, heading into their final game of the 2014-15 campaign Wednesday against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center, they don't have control of their own destiny, either.

Brooklyn (37-44) now trails the Indiana Pacers (37-43) by a half-game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Pacers face the Washington Wizards, now locked into the No. 5 seed, on Tuesday night. Indiana, which loses the tiebreaker to Brooklyn, finishes against the Memphis Grizzles on Wednesday.

The Boston Celtics clinched a playoff spot, and are all but guaranteed the No. 7 seed, which means the Nets are likely playing for eighth and a matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, who swept them during the regular season.

Brooklyn had better get in. They still might. After all, this is the East.

Otherwise, the franchise will have to sweat out the upcoming lottery. The Hawks have the right to swap firsts with the Nets, as a result of the 2012 Joe Johnson trade.

Brooklyn's $58.7 million trio of Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez finished with a combined 34 points Monday. As a team, the Nets shot 36.8 percent from the field and totaled 12 assists.

They were booed out of their own building, which sounded more like Chicago's United Center than Brooklyn's Barclays Center by the final buzzer. The Nets tried. It just felt like the Bulls wanted it more.

Earlier this season, Johnson called the team out for being selfish. On Monday night, Williams did the same.

"We've struggled against the really solid defensive teams where they load up, and we haven't moved the ball," Williams said. "You can't just play one pick-and-roll and a shot against a team like this."

"That's what they want you to do. You gotta try to spread them out, try to get the ball to the other side of the floor and play second and third options, make them guard for a full shot clock, and we didn't do that a lot. We just came down and fired shots, didn't pass out of double-teams. Every one of us, myself included, we were selfish tonight."

After the Bulls' tenacious defense shut down their vaunted pick-and-roll, the Nets reverted to playing isolation basketball, which they can't afford to do.

Derrick Rose torched Brooklyn in the first half, then Nikola Mirotic took his turn in the second half. Chicago shot 50 percent from the field. Rose had 13 points and seven assists, while Mirotic connected on six 3-pointers and collected 26 points.

Johnson was surprised by how the Nets came out and played, given the significance of the game.

"I can't explain it," he said. "I don't even know how it's possible, with this being a very important game, so I really don't know."

Johnson also didn't know if the Nets have the mental toughness to overcome it.

"I have no idea," he said. "I can't answer that."

Johnson and Lopez didn't plan to watch the Pacers-Wizards game.

"The only thing we can do now is get the win on Wednesday and hope for the best," Williams said. "It's our fault. We put ourselves in this position. A week ago, it was looking really good for us and everybody was happy, and now it's kinda the opposite, but we just gotta be positive."

In a few days, the story might be that the Nets somehow made the playoffs. But they're going to need help.

That's not how they envisioned things playing out.