MIAMI — There’s an old adage warning about losing the same game twice.
After the Nets lost to the Cavaliers on Thursday in a heartbreaker, they can’t afford to let those still-broken hearts beat them again Saturday when they face the Heat.
And they don’t have long to get their heads right.
The Nets (39-34) picked the most pivotal stretch of the season to have their worst losing skid of the season.
They have lost five straight coming into the all-important game against the Heat, the No. 6 team in the Eastern Conference, which leads the Nets by a half-game.
Win, and the Nets will climb back into the sixth and final guaranteed playoff spot.
Lose, and they will sink deeper into the play-in.
“Yeah, it’s a big game. Obviously, there’s implications on both sides,” Joe Harris said. “But the remaining nine games are big. So obviously, this game against Miami is the emphasis, but there’s going to be an emphasis on every single opponent that we face from here on out.”
The Nets were championship contenders just six weeks ago and sat fifth in the East on March 13, but they have tumbled headlong into the dreaded play-in.
Not only have they fallen behind the No. 5 Knicks, but also they have blown a three-game lead on the Heat in just 11 days, bottoming out with their 116-114 collapse Thursday against Cleveland.
At least the Nets hope this is the bottom.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Harris said. “But collectively across the board, we’re obviously aware of where we sit in the standings and the importance of every game here down the stretch. [Head coach Jacque Vaughn] has been great where this was a tough loss for us.
“I felt like we should have won [Thursday], and we were in control of the game for the majority of the 48 minutes. You have a tough loss, so everybody’s feeling that. But at the same time, we have a big game coming up against Miami and in Orlando. So the focus is now shifted to that … and you hopefully go on the road and take advantage of two good opportunities.”
The Nets, who will play at Orlando on Sunday, seemed dispirited after the gut-wrenching way they lost Thursday, so they don’t have time to wallow in self-pity.
“Every game in a must now. … So try to get these two in a row,” Royce O’Neale said.
“That’s what [Vaughn] talks about,” Harris said. “Like I said, this was a tough loss for us, but he’s trying to redirect the focus, preparing for Miami. And once you prepare against Miami, prepare for Orlando, and so on and so forth.”
Preparing not tactically, but emotionally could be harder considering the way they lost Thursday.
The Nets had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and eight-point cushion with 1:52 left but allowed a 12-2 Cavaliers run to close the game — including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Isaac Okoro to beat them.
“This is an emotionally taxing game when you don’t come out as the winner and you had the ball in your hands with 20 [seconds] and they were going to have to foul us,” Vaughn said. “In a game like this, emotionally, you’re going to be spent a little bit. So you learn about can you let it go and move onto the next game?
“Can you take the lessons from the game, whether that’s to continue to move the ball like we did in a lot of the possessions in the fourth [quarter], the second group finding an identity and playing well on both sides of the floor. There are a lot of good things that we did [Thursday], so can we grab onto those things, but also emotionally reload to play another game.”
O’Neale was one of the players who spoke up in the locker room, trying to maintain morale. That will be vital Saturday in what essentially is a must-win game.
“We’ve just got to take from [this], learning from the end of the game and what we can do better as a team,” Mikal Bridges said. “Every game is important. We’ve just got to take it day-by-day, and we’ve just got to win.”
Seth Curry will be out Saturday for personal reasons.
The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report revealed multiple blown calls at the end of the Nets’ loss to the Cavaliers, both going against the Nets.
Nic Claxton was whistled for a foul on Caris LeVert with 1:52 left, but the report determined it was incidental contact that shouldn’t have sent the former Net to the line. LeVert sank both free throws.
Then, when Donovan Mitchell got an offensive rebound with 11.6 seconds left — leading to Okoro’s winning 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds to play — the report showed that the Cavaliers star did indeed commit a lane violation, as the Nets had thought at the time.
Miami’s Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin are questionable to play Saturday with left knee injuries. Jamal Cain, Nikola Jovic, Orlando Robinson and Cody Zeller are all out for the Heat.