Brooklyn Nets: 3 things to watch against rebuilding Hawks

Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets head to Barclays Center Sunday afternoon in search of their 5th straight win against an Atlanta Hawks team that has lost 6 of its last 7.

It’s not a scenario the Brooklyn Nets have been in too often in recent seasons, but Sunday’s matchup at Barclays Center against the struggling Atlanta Hawks sets up as a classic trap game for the suddenly hot Nets.

Brooklyn (12-18) comes in on a four-game winning streak, their longest since late in the 2014-15 season and will host the much-improved Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

But before then, the Nets have to remember to take care of business against the rebuilding Hawks, who at 6-22 have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst mark in the NBA.

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It’s been more than a year since the Hawks visited Brooklyn, when they picked up their only win in four meetings with the Nets last season with a 114-102 victory on Dec. 2, 2017.

Atlanta, under first-year coach Lloyd Pierce, are the fastest team in the NBA, averaging 106.88 possessions per game, but that speed hasn’t led to great results with a deceptively young team.

The Hawks average an NBA-worst 18.6 turnovers per game — two more than the next closest club — and are at or near the bottom in shooting (44.2 percent, 26th) and 3-point shooting (32.1 percent).

Atlanta enters play Sunday afternoon with six losses in its last seven games, including dropping their last two on the road to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday and the Boston Celtics Friday.

The Nets have won four straight after losing eight in a row, while Atlanta is 3-6 since breaking a 10-game skid with a win over the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 25.

Atlanta will be down one starter and three bench pieces Sunday. Taurean Prince, the Hawks’ leading returning scorer from last season at 14.1 points per game, has missed the last four games with a bruised and sprained left ankle and is out until at least Christmas.

They are also without big men Miles Plumlee (knee) and Alex Poythress (ankle), while rookie Omari Spellman has been declared out for Sunday with a sore right hip.

The Hawks and Nets are the sixth- and seventh-youngest teams in the NBA, per Basketball Reference, with Atlanta having an average age of 25.5 and Brooklyn checking in at 25.6.

But the Hawks’ average gets skewed more than a little bit by veteran and former Nets star Vince Carter, who turns 42 next month. Carter is still contributing though, averaging 7.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game.

Second-year forward John Collins leads the Hawks in scoring at 17.7 points per game after missing the first 15 games with a left ankle injury and he is also their top man on the glass at 9.4 rebounds per game.

The only Hawk to start every game this season is fifth overall pick Trae Young, their young point guard who averages 15.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.9 turnovers in 29.3 minutes per game and shoots .377/.237/.784. Call him … a work in progress.

Veteran Kent Bazemore is the team’s best perimeter defender, averaging 1.8 steals to go with 12.9 points per game, while big man Alex Len has revived his career in Atlanta, taking over the starting job from veteran Dewayne Dedmon and averaging 9.5 points and 5.0 boards in 19.5 minutes a game.

This is a game the Nets should win, provided they don’t fall into the trap of overlooking the struggling Hawks while having LeBron James and the Lakers on their minds.

Here are three things to watch when Atlanta visits Brooklyn for a 3 p.m. Eastern tip.