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Brooklyn Nets must seize opportunity to stack wins now

Much attention has been focused on the extremely rough final 13 games of the season for the Brooklyn Nets, but next 7 games could determine season’s fate.

The Brooklyn Nets have just 20 games remaining this season, as they hit the fourth quarter of a year that has seen them as far as 10 games below .500 and as much at four games above the break-even mark.

The Nets (32-30) are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, with the hard-charging Detroit Pistons (29-30) and Orlando Magic (28-33) getting larger in the rear-view mirror, even as the Charlotte Hornets (28-32) and Miami Heat (26-33) are fading a bit.

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Detroit and Orlando have each won eight of their last 10 games, with the Pistons downing the Indiana Pacers Monday night to remain 1½ games behind Brooklyn, while the Magic are just a half-game behind the Hornets for the eighth and final Eastern playoff spot and 3½ in back of the Nets.

Brooklyn’s final 13 games are a serious gauntlet, a stretch that begins with seven consecutive road games and nine games in all away from Barclays Center, with just four games at home.

During that stretch, there is one team on the schedule that currently holds a losing record — the Heat, who come to Brooklyn in the regular-season finale on April 10.

In terms of tiebreakers against the teams around them in the Eastern pecking order, the Nets and Pistons play once more — March 11 at Barclays Center — with the winner becoming owner of the head-to-head tiebreaker as the teams split their first two meetings way back in October.

Brooklyn can lock up the tiebreaker against the Hornets with a win at home Friday night after taking a 2-1 season series edge with their dramatic win Saturday night in Charlotte.

The Nets already locked up the tiebreaker against the Magic by going 2-1 in their three meetings. Brooklyn and Miami are deadlocked 1-1 right now, with games remaining Saturday at Miami and April 10 in Brooklyn.

Much attention is focused on Brooklyn’s brutal finishing stretch, but their season’s fate could very well be determined in their next seven games.

The Nets will play five games at home over that stretch between Wednesday and March 11 and hit the road just twice. But all seven of those games are against teams that are currently below .500.

Brooklyn has a golden opportunity to stack some wins together between now and that closing stretch and absolutely must seize on that chance to put some ground between itself and the teams chasing them in what is shaping up to be a sprint to the finish for the final three Eastern playoff spots.

The top five appear to be locks. The Milwaukee Bucks are 46-14, 2½ games better than the Toronto Raptors (44-17).

There is a cluster of three teams within 2½ games of each other in the third through fifth spots: the Pacers (40-21), the Philadelphia 76ers (39-22) and Boston Celtics (37-23).

The Celtics are six games clear of the Nets and it would take some serious collapsing by one of the three teams in that group in the third-, fourth- and fifth-place slots for Brooklyn to have a chance at breaking into that party.

With wins Saturday in Charlotte and Monday at home against the San Antonio Spurs, the Nets — who have struggled a bit of late, winning just four of their last 10 games and going 6-7 since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a thumb injury — have their first consecutive victories in a month.

Brooklyn won six straight games from Jan. 14-25 before skidding a bit.

The Nets open this critical seven-game stretch on Wednesday at home against the Washington Wizards (24-36), who have lost four straight and seven of their last 10. Brooklyn is 2-1 this season against the Wizards, including a 125-118 win at Barclays Center on Dec. 14.

On Friday, the Nets host the Hornets, who are 4-6 in their last 10 games and have lost two straight. Brooklyn beat Charlotte at home on Dec. 26 in a 134-132 double-overtime thriller.

They have the dreaded second game of a back-to-back on the road Saturday night in Miami, having gone 2-2 in their last four road SEGABABAs.

The Heat are injury-riddled and reeling, losing three straight and eight of 10 and Monday night lost at home to the Phoenix Suns, who came in having lost 17 straight overall and 13 consecutive road games.

Brooklyn returns home on Monday to host the Dallas Mavericks (26-34), who have fallen out of contention in the Western Conference with five straight losses. The Nets will be trying to salvage a split of the season series after losing 119-113 in Dallas on Nov. 21.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (14-47) come to town on March 6. Cleveland has the third-worst record in the NBA, but have won four of its last 10. The Cavaliers pushed the Nets to triple-overtime before losing 148-139 on Feb. 13 and won at Brooklyn 99-97 in their first visit on Dec. 3.

That is the only game the Nets have lost this season (8-1) when holding an opponent to less than 100 points.

On March 9, Brooklyn visits the Atlanta Hawks (20-41) with a chance to wrap up a three-game season sweep after winning twice at home. The Nets haven’t swept the Hawks since going 3-0 against them in 2004-05.

The seven-game stretch wraps up March 11 with their crucial game — for tiebreaker implications — against the Pistons at Barclays Center.

The Nets and Pistons played twice in October, both games that featured huge momentum shifts. The Nets lost to Detroit in their season opener on Oct. 17 after leading by as much as 12, with the Pistons getting a 103-100 win in a game in which Detroit led by as much as 13 points.

On Oct. 31 at home, the Nets beat Detroit 120-119 in overtime, coming back from being down as much as 10 points and getting the narrow win despite blowing a 15-point lead.

Based on current records, it’s looking like 38 wins might just be good enough to get the eighth playoff spot in the East.

The Nets could get to that total of 38 victories by going 6-1 over their next seven games, which could take some of the pressure off them over that 12-game stretch against some of the NBA’s best.

Of course, going 7-0 and being 39-30 to start the closing kick would be ideal, but Brooklyn is still a young team and young teams can sometimes stub their toes over games they should win.

Anything worse than 5-2 in this stretch — if you want to concede the two road games — will be a disappointing outcome and could threaten to push the Nets all the way to eighth … or out of the playoff picture entirely if that finishing stretch goes sideways and either the Hornets or Heat get hot.

A 5-2 record over the next seven games would leave Brooklyn at 37-32 before going through the gauntlet of at Oklahoma City, at Utah, a both LA teams, at Sacramento, at Portland, at Philadelphia, home for the Celtics, a home-and-home remaining with the Bucks, a home game with the Raptors and a final visit to Indiana.

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Heck, they might even have a puncher’s chance at winning 42, 43 or even 44 games before it’s all said and done.

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