Nets exceed expectations with playoff-clinching win over Kings

The Nets wanted to win their way into the playoffs. They didn’t want to back in or wait for somebody else to do their work for them.

Friday, Brooklyn got the clinching victory it needed, beating Sacramento — and all reasonable expectations, as well.

After getting thrashed by Boston just a game before, the Nets bounced back to beat the Kings, 119-106, in the bubble at Orlando.

They took the court at ESPN Wide World of Sports knowing a loss by Washington would’ve also sealed their postseason berth. But they didn’t wait on the Wizards.

The Nets (33-36) moved a full game ahead of eighth-place Orlando — pending the Magic’s game Friday — and clinched a second straight playoff bid.

“We want to play well,” interim coach Jacque Vaughn had said. “And so if that means playing well and winning, we’d love to sign up for that list and hopefully take care of business ourselves. But the goal for us is to respond and play well.”

Oh, the Nets played well. Far better than they had in a 149-115 humbling against Boston on Wednesday. Granted, the Kings are certainly not the Celtics, but the Nets showing some fortitude was key.

Caris LeVert had a team-high 22 points along with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. He scored 19 in the first half, when the Nets took a lead they never gave up. Jarrett Allen, playmaking out of the high post, had 17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists.

“Yeah, really encouraging — especially with a group that, overall, really hasn’t been around each other for a long time. So, you really have to give credit to the guys for responding,” Vaughn said.

On one end, the Nets shot 48.8 percent with 30 assists and just nine turnovers. On the other, they held a Kings team that’d hung 140 points on New Orleans just a day earlier to just 106 on 20 assists and 15 turnovers.

Bogdan Bogdanovic had a game-high 27 points, and Brooklyn actually trailed 30-24 early in the second quarter after a Buddy Hield 3-pointer. But Tyler Johnson — 14 points off the bench after three straight starts — helped spark a 14-2 run. Chris Chiozza (14 points, plus-24) capped it with a reverse to give the Nets a 38-32 lead they built on the rest of the way.

LeVert got a bounce on a 3 for a 61-49 lead, then hit a step-back on the next trip down the court. He had 19 at the break, tying the highest-scoring first half of his career.

Brooklyn padded the cushion coming back out of the locker room. Garrett Temple’s free throws made it 78-62 with 7:39 left in the third.

Even when the Nets conceded a Kings rally — a dozen unanswered points, to see their lead cut down to 78-74 — they responded.

Temple showed his veteran value, slowing down the game. He pulled power forward Nemanja Bjelica out away from the basket and drove for a layup to staunch the bleeding.

The Nets answered back with a 21-8 run to put it away. They scored the final six points of that spurt, going ahead 99-82.

By the time it was over, the Nets had moved to 3-2 in the restart with three games left. After losing Kyrie Irving to injury — as well as Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler to coronavirus concerns, they’ve already topped the 2 1/2 wins Vegas had projected.

“You’re always introspective in your approach to the game to make sure that you’re doing your part, my part as a coach,” Vaughn said. “So, the challenge is getting this group ready to play.

“We have some guys that’ve been with us for a long time, but we have a new group that we’re counting on to play minutes. So, we’re going to maximize the talent and maximize this group. That’s the challenge for me, and that’s the challenge I look forward to every single day with this group.”

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