The Brooklyn Nets are looking at their next contest as an opportunity to finish an eight-game road stretch in strong fashion.
The Nets are unsure of the statuses of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace heading into Wednesday night's matchup with a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has lost nine straight but should have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup.
Brooklyn (42-31) returned home after a 4-3 trip ended with losses to Denver and Utah. The Nets feel that the three days back following Saturday's 116-107 defeat to the Jazz have been beneficial.
"I guess it's a little blessing in disguise that we get (a chance) to finish up the road trip on a good note," center Brook Lopez said.
Johnson has missed the last four games with a strained quadriceps but returned to practice Tuesday. It's not clear if he will play Wednesday or wait until Thursday's contest with Chicago.
The Nets lead Atlanta by one game and the Bulls by two in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, so interim coach P.J. Carlesimo may wait to use Johnson against Chicago.
Wallace sat out practice Tuesday with a sore left foot.
"You try and win but I think it's clearly not as important as the health issue, especially with Joe and Gerald right now," Carlesimo said.
The health of Irving is the primary concern for Cleveland (22-51). The Cavaliers have decided that Irving will sit out the second half of back-to-back contests to help him recover from a sprained left shoulder that kept him out for eight games March 12-29, and he missed Monday's 102-94 defeat at Atlanta.
"I think he understands we're just looking out for him," coach Byron Scott said. "That's the bottom line. We want him to finish the season on a good note, and healthy going into next season."
The Cavs haven't lost more than nine in a row since their NBA-record 26-game slide two seasons ago.
Irving would match up again with Deron Williams at point guard. The Nets have won the first two meetings this season, with Williams averaging 20.5 points and 8.5 assists and Irving averaging 23.5 and 7.5.
Lopez, averaging 23.0 points on 55.7 percent shooting over his last seven games, may be relishing this matchup. He's averaging 29.0 points on 67.6 percent shooting against Cleveland this season.
Cavs second-year forward Tristan Thompson is averaging 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds against Brooklyn, which insists it won't be looking past the Cavs.
"This time of the season, no matter what team you're playing, they've been together for a full season, you know, and they're playing a lot better basketball," Williams said. "The teams that aren't in the playoffs, they really don't have nothing to lose so they go out there and play loose and free so we've just got to be focused on coming out and being ready to play every night and not overlooking anybody."
The Associated Press News Service
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