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Nets inch closer to playoff berth

AP

They have gone from disappointment to dominant, a team that was booed on its home floor and now rarely loses there.

And pretty soon, the Brooklyn Nets will also be a playoff team.

Pierce scored 22 points after another sensational start, and the Nets moved to the brink of a postseason spot by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-99 on Sunday for their franchise record-tying 13th straight home victory.

“First part of the season was rough on us with injuries and everything that we went through, and it feels good,” guard Deron Williams said. “It feels good to be able to turn it around.”

Pierce scored 16 in the first quarter, two nights after putting up 17 in the period, and didn’t miss a shot in either. He couldn’t keep it going after asking for a rest so he would stay fresh to defend Kevin Love, but the Nets had to plenty more to pull away.

Joe Johnson added 19 points for the Nets, who were 10-21 when they reached the new year, but will clinch a playoff spot with either another win or a loss by the New York Knicks.

A postseason berth was viewed as a sure thing when the Nets acquired Pierce and Kevin Garnett while assembling a team that would cost more than $180 million, but they struggled early and then lost leading scorer Brook Lopez to a season-ending foot injury.

“I think a lot of teams with bad character, bad leadership in the locker room would’ve laid down a long time ago. Probably by Christmas would’ve been making summer plans,” Pierce said. “But not this group.”

Brooklyn equaled the longest home winning streak in the NBA this season and the best in the history of the franchise, done twice in 2002 when the Nets were still based in New Jersey. They have won 20 of their last 22 games at Barclays Center.

Cavaliers 90, Pacers 76

In Cleveland, Dion Waiters scored 19 points, Luol Deng added 15 and the Cavaliers kept their playoff push going.

Cleveland came in three games behind slumping, idle Atlanta for the conference’s final playoff spot. With seven games left — six against teams with losing records — the Cavs still have a chance.

Thunder 116, Jazz 96

In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant had 31 points and nine assists to help the Thunder defeat Utah.

Durant scored at least 25 points for the 38th consecutive game, the longest streak since Michael Jordan did it in 40 straight games for the Chicago Bulls during the 1986-87 season.

Trail Blazers 105, Grizzlies 98

In Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points in his third game back from injury and the Trail Blazers extended their winning streak to three games.

Portland opened a two-game lead over Golden State for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference playoff race and pulled within 2½ games of No. 4 Houston with seven games remaining.

Raptors 98, Magic 93

In Orlando, DeMar DeRozan had 28 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 20 points and nine rebounds.

Bulls 107, Celtics 102

In Boston, D.J. Augustin scored 15 of his career-high 33 points in the fourth quarter and Chicago held off the slumping Celtics.

Knicks 89, Warriors 84

In Oakland, J.R. Smith scored 21 points, Carmelo Anthony added 19 points and nine rebounds and New York moved within one game of the final playoff spot by beating undermanned Golden State.

Lakers 115, Suns 99

In Los Angeles, Chris Kaman had 28 points along with 17 rebounds while starting at center for the vertigo-stricken Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks scored 22 points, and the Lakers snapped Phoenix’s six-game winning streak.