Pierce sends playoff message to Nets

WASHINGTON –- Paul Pierce sat in the Nets locker room less than thrilled with what had just transpired earlier on Saturday night.

The Nets blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a matter of minutes, losing 101-94 to the Wizards in Washington.

Pierce knows that with 18 games remaining in the season, the Nets blew yet another chance to move up in the standings and solidify a preferred playing seeding.

“You’ve got two teams that are a game or a half a game apart,” Pierce said on Saturday of the Wizards and Nets. “I tried to express that to the guys in the locker room, ‘Hey, from here on out these games are like playoff games.’”

“Every day, every week, the standings are gonna be constantly changing,” Pierce continued. “It could mean the difference between having a Game 7 at home or a Game 7 on the road, so we have to take these games with a better sense of urgency from here on out.”

With a month left in the regular season, Pierce knows what is at stake. The Nets (33-31) are playing good basketball but not the kind of consistent basketball that the good playoff teams display.

And that could be the difference between homecourt in the first round and starting out on the road. The Nets have won seven of their last nine games but they enter a pivotal week that could either give them another boost down the stretch or provide them with a setback that could haunt them in April.

For the first time since late January, the Nets are home for a week. And they play the Suns (37-28), Bobcats (32-34) and Celtics (22-44) at Barclays. The Nets have won eight straight at home but they’ll need to continue to handle their business in Brooklyn to make sure they stay out of seventh or eighth place in the East and avoid a potentially early exit against either Indiana or Miami.

Brooklyn certainly hopes it will have Kevin Garnett back. Garnett has missed eight straight with back spasms.

Entering Sunday’s games, the Nets are sixth in the East, two games ahead of Charlotte but four behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto. The odds of catching the Raptors are not good. The Nets will be keeping a close eye on where the Raptors and Bulls finish in the standings.

The Nets would rather face the Raptors in a playoff series than the Bulls, who play with the kind of defense, grit and energy the Nets have had difficulty against.

The Wizards (35-31) also have given the Nets all sorts of trouble. Washington is 3-0 against the Nets, who had difficulty dealing with the Wizards’ youth and athleticism.

On Saturday night, the two teams played a game that had a playoff feel. It was fitting considering that the Nets and Wizards will likely be jockeying for playoff positioning from here on out and could decide each other's playoff fate. There is an outside chance that the two could even face each other in a series.

The young Wizards, looking to take that next step, looked as if they had won a playoff game at the end after holding the Nets without a field goal and to just three points in the final 6:20 of the game.

For the Wizards and John Wall, it was exactly the kind of win a young and inexperienced team could use to believe it is a playoff team. For the Nets, it was another harsh reminder of what happens when they get selfish on the offensive end, don’t move the ball and their offense goes cold while failing to defend on the other end.

“We just had a terrible offensive and defensive fourth quarter, and we can’t do that with the playoffs looming around the corner,” Pierce said. “We gotta be more solid, we gotta be more consistent.”

After playing 10 of their last 14 on the road, the Nets are thrilled to be coming home for a week. But it is critical that they win their home games and don’t give back many of the hard-fought road wins they earned recently.

After winning in Miami last week, the Nets were humbled in Washington. Jason Kidd and Pierce hope the Nets learned they can’t relax or play selfishly like they did in Washington.

For all intents and purposes, the Nets basically need to be playing with playoff-type intensity from here on out.

“[This is] when the season starts,” Kidd said when asked about veterans like Pierce sensing the urgency at this time of the year. “For veteran guys, that is when basketball starts to get serious. You look at the veterans around the league, they are all preparing for the playoffs.”