With a 101-93 win at the Boston Celtics on Wednesday evening, the Nets moved their magic number to clinch the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to two.
Maybe more importantly than the win and honing in on that 4-seed is the fact that two of interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo's main objectives are being met in the process. Get Joe Johnson healthy and engaged leading up to the playoffs, but try not to overextend his star shooting guard.
Johnson looked confident early in Wednesday's win before finishing with 20 points on 8-for-15 and 4-for-6 from 3-point range in 36 minutes of action. The 20-point effort was his first since scoring 20 in a loss at the Philadelphia 76ers back on March 11.
"Yeah, definitely, especially in the first half," Johnson told reporters in Boston when asked if he was encouraged by how he’s feeling. "I didn’t have any pain, I was able to get to any spots on the floor I wanted to get to. We were just moving the basketball, and getting great shots. That was the good thing about it."
Johnson missed the final five games of the Nets' eight-game, 17-day road trip while dealing with right quad and left heel issues. He returned April 4 against the Chicago Bulls, but the rust was evident. In the three games before he broke out in Boston, the six-time All-Star shot just 14-for-37 and 7-for-20 from 3-point range.
He sat out practice on Monday with the team calling it a rest day, then was labeled a game-time decision before playing against the Sixers on Tuesday.
Carlesimo has been adamant that getting Johnson set for the postseason is the primary objective in this final stretch, even more so than securing that No. 4 seed. So far, Carlesimo has done exactly what he has set out to do.
He only needed to play Johnson 23 minutes in a blowout win over the Sixers in the first end of a back-to-back before the 36-minute outing on Wednesday. Keeping an eye on Johnson's minutes coming off the injuries is crucial because as Carlesimo pointed out on Tuesday, the Nets' final six games are played over a nine-day period. Breaking it down further, the Nets play three games in four nights twice to close the regular season.
"He’s been playing a little bit more on the perimeter and relying on his jump shot," Carlesimo said. "Today he went at it a little bit."
Entering the day, the Nets (46-32) are in firm control in the race for the 4-seed, 3.5 games up on the fifth-place Bulls (42-35). The Nets are off on Thursday, while the Bulls are home to the Atlantic Division-champion New York Knicks. In the event the Bulls and Nets finish tied for No. 4, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker thanks to winning the season series, 3-1.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA