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Nets beat Magic 101-84, will be No. 6 seed in East playoffs

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NEW YORK (AP)— The Brooklyn Nets made sure a season that started turbulentlywill end in the playoffs.

Not onlythat, they did it with a better record and seeding than lastseason, even after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“This groupjust endured,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I mean, we chose to becourageous over comfort many times and that’s hard to do in thisleague.”

Mikal Bridgesscored 22 points and the Nets, shortly after clinching the No. 6seed in the Eastern Conference, beat the Orlando Magic 101-84 onFriday night.

The Nets nolonger needed the victory by the time the game was over, havingwrapped up a playoff spot when Miami lost at Washington while theirgame was in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn earned the finalguaranteed spot in the East and will face the No. 3 Philadelphia76ers in the first round.

First, thoseteams meet on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn for what is now ameaningless regular-season finale.

The Nets losttheir star power when they dealt Durant and Irving in February. Butthe players they brought back have recent postseason success, withBridges and Cam Johnson playing for Phoenix in the 2021 NBA Finals,and Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith helping Dallas reachthe West finals last year.

“Now again,we have to come together, new system, new city, all of the otherstuff, so it’s not going to be an easy task by any stretch and theyhave the probable MVP (Joel Embiid),” Dinwiddie said of the 76ers.”So again, like I said, there’s an appropriate respect, give Phillytheir credit, but at the same time we do feel like we belong inthat arena.”

Bridges was 1for 12 from 3-point range and fellow starting guard Dinwiddie was 0for 6 on a night both teams were miserable behind the arc. ButJohnson scored 18 points, Nic Claxton finished with 14 points and15 rebounds, while Dinwiddie had 14 assists and seven rebounds.

The Netsreplaced coach Steve Nash with Vaughn after starting 1-5, tradedDurant and Irving within days of each other and got adisappointing, injury-shortened season out of Ben Simmons.

Despite allthat, Brooklyn fared better than last season. The Nets improved to45-36 after going 44-38 in 2021-22, when they had to win a play-ingame to get the No. 7 seed before being swept by Boston in thefirst round.

Cole Anthonyhad 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Magic. GogaBitadze added 12 points and 15 rebounds.

After beingeliminated from contention for a play-in spot Tuesday with a lossto Cleveland in the opener of a two-game series, the Magic sat allof their starters while losing the second game Thursday. They keptNo. 1 pick Paolo Banchero out again Friday but started regularsFranz Wagner and Markelle Fultz.

The Nets blewit open in the second quarter, with an 11-0 spurt to open theperiod pushing a four-point lead to 38-23. It grew to 46-28 whenSeth Curry made his second four-point play of the period — givinghim eight points on just two field goals — and would reach 24before the Nets took a 58-39 lead to the break.

“When theybroke that lead open, it was a lot of turnovers and a lot offouls,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “So I think the more we can focuson being able to take care of the basketball and defend withoutfouling, those will continue to be our keys.”

It was 78-62entering the fourth, matching the fewest points the Nets allowedthrough three quarters this season.

Brooklyn was9 for 42 (21.4%) on 3s and Orlando finished 7 for 38 (18.4%).

TIP-INS

Magic: Wagnerscored 12 points. ... Orlando has lost 15 of its last 19 games inBrooklyn.

Nets: Curryscored 13 points. ... The Nets converted the deal for guard DavidDuke Jr. into a standard NBA contract. Terms were not released. Hehas appeared in 22 games off the bench for Brooklyn this season .... The Nets finished 16-2 against the Southeast Division.

GOODFRIDAY

The Netsfinished 12-2 on Friday, the best record in the NBA on thatday.

UPNEXT

Magic: AtMiami on Sunday.

Nets: HostPhiladelphia on Sunday.

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