The I-76ers

Around the Atlantic: Brooklyn Nets Clinch #4 Seed

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

The team could have closed within one game of the Indiana Pacers for the #3 spot in the Eastern Conference had they been able to defeat one of the worst teams in the NBA yesterday.

However, the Brooklyn Nets lost to the Toronto Raptors, and in doing so became locked into the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs. They will play either the Chicago Bulls (whom they are 1-3 against this season) or the Atlanta Hawks (whom they split the season series with, 2-2).

Deron Williams was disappointed about the loss, but the fact that the Nets are no longer fighting for a spot could mean that Coach P.J. Carlesimo will rest players in the final two games. Williams is averaging 27 points per game over his Brooklyn’s last seven contests, but was hampered by injuries early on in the season that led to poor conditioning and less scoring.

Now, Williams appears to be healthy, but the Nets will have to ride him throughout the postseason if they have any aspirations of making it past the first round. D-Will can’t do it alone, though; his 30 points and 7 assists against the Raptors stood alone, as Joe Johnson shot 4-16 from the field for 12 points and Brook Lopez shot 7-19 for 16 points and added just 5 rebounds.

The Nets will have a tough first round matchup, regardless of who they face. The Bulls are erratic offensively without Derrick Rose, but they are consistently one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Hawks will ride Josh Smith, who is playing great basketball because he’s in a contract year.

If the Nets hope to make any kind of noise in the postseason, they’d be wise to rest Williams for the remainder of the season, and then ride the superstar PG as far as he can take them in the playoffs.