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Brooklyn bench the playoff catalyst

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For as well as the Nets’ starters are playing, their reserves will likely dictate much of their early playoff success. Regardless of their first-round matchup, the Nets will face a formidable starting unit capable of defending.

The benches remain a question mark.

While Mikhail Prokhorov’s free spending is paying dividends with a strong core, the money compiled a bench unit stronger than arguably any other Eastern Conference team.

Those role players performed ably Friday night in Brooklyn, where they extended their winning streak to 12 games.

The Nets received contributions from all sources in a 108-97 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The bench combined to score 48 points, led by Alan Anderson’s 13. Andray Blatche and Marcus Thornton added 10 points apiece.

“This is a special team,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket and make plays for one another.”

The Nets stand to face either the Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors in the first round. The Raptors, who split the season series with the Nets at two games apiece, do not offer much past their sixth man. The Bulls, on the other hand, may only utilize a seven-man rotation.

Even though coaches typically tighten their rosters heading into the postseason, Kidd may have no choice but to lean on his reserves. In an effort to keep players like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams healthy, Kidd might not push them to 40 minutes and beyond.

“That’s who we are,” Pierce said. “If we’re going to go anywhere in these playoffs, we’re a team full of depth. We’ve got a number of guys that can beat you on any given night. It’s not really surrounded around one particular guy. ... That’s what makes us so dangerous and tough to scout.”

Kidd had the luxury of going to his bench early against the Cavaliers. Deron Williams sat out the entire fourth quarter, and only Shaun Livingston surpassed the 30-minute mark.

Pierce scored 22 points, including 17 in the first quarter, in just 19:56.

The Nets are still missing Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko. Garnett missed his 15th straight game while Kirilenko continued to monitor a sprained left ankle. Thornton returned from a back injury and played 21:43.
When the Nets return to action Sunday, they will encounter an entirely different animal. The Minnesota Timberwolves rely heavily on dominant big men Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.

Of the three possible first round matchups, two teams feature two towers. The Washington Wizards will trout out Nene and Marcin Gortat and the Bulls will send Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer at the Nets. The Bulls will also bring Taj Gibson off the bench.

With the Nets’ small ball, the Raptors probably make for the best matchups. Ironically, the Raptors think so too.

I want Brooklyn (in the playoffs), personally,” swingman Terrence Ross said earlier this month.

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