Nets-Wizards ‘showdown’ looking like play-in preview

Could Sunday’s game be a preview of the NBA’s first-ever “Play-In Series” when the Nets face the Wizards in Disney World?

The way the makeshift Nets stunk up the Orlando bubble in their restart opener Friday, anything is possible now — even an 0-10 crash.

The Nets, who fell behind by 30 points in the second half and lost to Orlando, 128-118, have their work cut out for them against the ninth-place Wizards.

The Nets, after a garbage-time surge, fell to eighth place and lead Washington by 5½ games. If the Wizards close within four games of the Nets after this eight-game regular season, the two teams will battle in a quasi best-of-3 series for the right to make the playoffs. The Nets, if they are still in eighth place, would have to win just one game to advance.

The Wizards, who also lost their opener, to Phoenix, 125-112, would need to beat the Nets twice.

“Overall the group realizes the importance of the game,’’ Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “It doesn’t change our approach. Hopefully we were as locked in as we need to be every single game.’’

Jarrett Allen
Jarrett AllenNBAE via Getty Images

Without any of their stars in Orlando (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan), the Nets may be better served in tanking their way out the playoffs. If the Nets miss the 16-team tournament, the NBA ruled they would be in the lottery.

And hence the Nets would regain their lottery-protected pick from Minnesota. If that happens, still a long shot, the Nets would give Minnesota their pick, in 2021 which likely will be late in the first round if the superstar tandem of KD/Kyrie works as well as GM Sean Marks envisions it will.

It is also unclear how badly the Wizards care about making the playoffs and falling out of the lottery draw, which will be held on Aug. 20. Washington is without backcourt stars Bradley Beal (shoulder) and John Wall, who missed the entire season.

In addition, Wizards 3-point sharpshooter Davis Bertans decided to skip the restart so he can protect his health entering free agency — a real team player that one.

Vaughn admits it’s tough to judge Washington’s team just as the Nets are impossible to scout with their expansion-like roster. (They may or may not get the infusion of Jamal Crawford making his Nets debut). On paper, the Nets and Wizards are by far the two least-talented teams in Disney.

“You get the [Washington] analytics report and might as well tear it up,’’ said Vaughn, who didn’t help his case to return next season.

The Nets’ defense was atrocious against the Magic, who shot 53 percent and scored 41 points in the third quarter.

Vaughn also said he didn’t like that the Nets allowed 13 points off the Magic’s offensive rebounds.

“Because we aren’t as big as usual, the smalls have to come back and rebound,’’ Vaughn said. “When that doesn’t happen, we give up paint points. We have to be more pinpoint on the little things defensively.”

Nets forward Timothè Luwawu-Cabarrot sparked an 18-0 run to close the game versus the Magic, heating up from 3 (5-of-8). But because their D was so poor in the first three quarters, it didn’t matter.

“Commmunication is key and is part of our defense,’’ Luwawu-Caborrot said. “We’re not good enough to be out there and not talk to each other. We need to be a team that’s gritty and wants it all. We didn’t do it [Friday].’’