Nets Head West After Lengthy Break


Following a disappointing end to the first half of the season, Brooklyn received some much needed time off to regroup for their attempt at a playoff push. Over the All-Star weekend, trade rumors surrounding several Nets began to once again resurface as the trade deadline looms large. The franchise has come to a crossroad for their tenure in Brooklyn.

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Regardless of what happened or didn’t happen at the trade deadline yesterday, there is still meaningful basketball left to be played for the Nets. Currently sitting one game out of the 7th & 8th spots in the East, Brooklyn is hoping to recapture some of their second half magic from the two previous seasons to make a late push. Fortunately, the first two stops in their Western Conference road trip are against two sub-.500 teams.

The remainder of Brooklyn’s schedule is far more difficult than the first half of the season and it is crucial for Lionel Hollins and his team to capitalize against weaker opponents. The Nets started out the 2014-15 campaign on fire against teams under .500 but struggled in recent weeks. Paired with an inability to beat the upper echelon teams in the league, the Nets have sunk to a season worst, 21-31. The importance to perform in winnable games is at an all-time high for the year.  Brooklyn’s final 30 games contains unbearable stretches when the calender turns to March and finishes the season against 6 different playoff teams (Atlanta twice) in the nine games in April.

“We got 30 games left and we’re still in the playoff hunt (just one game behind Charlotte for the eighth spot). We need everybody to come back, we need everyone to get healthy, and see if we can put together a run to make the playoffs.” – Lionel Hollins

Tonight, Brooklyn heads to Hollywood to face the Lakers in the teams first meeting of the season. It presents an excellent opportunity for the Nets to start the second half on a positive tone. The Lakers season has been anything but ideal, as Kobe Bryant was recently shutdown for the remainder of the season while the team has limped into the break at 13-40. Losers of six straight, Brooklyn hopes to add to their misery with a victory, snapping a three game losing streak of their own.

With the absence of Kobe, Los Angeles has relied on Nick Young as their most constant scoring threat while Jordan Hill and Ed Davis continue to give teams fits on the glass. Recent injuries to Ronnie Price, Jordan Hill and Kobe have relegated Wayne Ellington and Jordan Clarkson to significant roles for Byron Scott’s club and the Nets must be prepared to face a young team that is willing to hustle and push the ball in transition.

Brooklyn always seems to struggle against teams that have nothing to play for (Sixers, Knicks, etc.). A collective and focused effort should be enough (fingers crossed), even with the recent hamstring injury of Jarrett Jack looming over the starting lineup in addition to the recent acquisitions/departures. Jack, as it has been duly noted in recent weeks on From Russia With Dunk, has been Brooklyn’s most valuable player over the past month and is looking to overcome an injury from last week. He is questionable to play tonight and could spell additional minutes for Deron Williams.

After tonight’s game, Brooklyn makes the trek to Denver to take on the Nuggets in another “must-win” situation. This will be the second and final meeting for the two teams this season as the Nets took care of Denver at home in late December. Like the Lakers, Denver totes a team of athletic, young players that have the ability to speed up the tempo of the game (5th in the NBA in Pace Factor). Point guard Ty Lawson is establishing himself as one of the best in the business while young frontcourt talent like Jusuf Nurkic and Kenneth Faried create matchup nightmares for each opponents.

Lawson’s ability to score from anywhere on the court will pose a problem for Jack and Williams while the UNC guard also dishes out over 10 assists per contest. The Nets will be lacking big men with the departure of KG and will need to limit Denver’s chances on the offensive glass, where they are 11th in the league in Offensive Rebounding Rate. Additionally, the Nuggets grab the sixth most rebounds of any team in the NBA, as opposed to the Nets who are 23rd. Denver, however, will be without their primary scoring threat on Sunday as Arron Afflalo was finally dealt to Portland. Expect Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari to absorb the touches lost in the departure of Afflalo.

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Yesterday, Brooklyn dealt veteran forward Kevin Garnett to his longtime former team (Minnesota) in exchange for Thaddeus Young, a player that the Nets front office had their eye on in recent weeks. Brooklyn will certainly miss Garnett’s presence on the defensive end, in addition to his tenacity and strong leadership role in the locker room.

It is unclear if Young will be able to make his Nets debut tonight but Brooklyn will certainly be lacking in frontcourt depth. Look for extended minutes from Cory Jefferson, Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee for this weekend. Young adds versatility at the forward position and is another capable scorer/rebounder to add to Brooklyn’s arsenal.

Besides the Garnett deal, the Nets were relatively quiet after gaining major traction on several projected trades yesterday. They were unable to “kickstart” the rebuilding process that fans have been clamoring for over this past season and are once again in an awkward position as a franchise. The core of their lineup remains intact and they still have enough talent to make a late push at the final two spots in the East. Miami certainly improved with the acquisition of Goran Dragic but nothing is guaranteed in terms of success the rest of the way.

Will the Nets rise to the challenge in the second half? Only time will tell. If they are serious about making a legitimate run to sneak into the postseason, it should start with a pair of wins this weekend. The remaining schedule will rarely present a pair of winnable games and Brooklyn needs to seize the opportunity on Friday and Sunday.

Go Nets & Thanks for the memories, KG.

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