The Brooklyn Nets return from an 8-day break to host the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night, tipping off a challenging home stretch.
For the first time in four years, the Brooklyn Nets emerge from the All-Star break with something to play for.
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While many expected that to be the pursuit of a lottery position given the Nets — for the first time since 2013 — have possession of their own first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets (30-29) are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race with a tough second half ahead.
That begins Thursday as they entertain the Portland Trail Blazers (34-23), currently holding a top-four spot in the Western Conference.
Thursday’s game at Barclays Center completes the NBA circuit for Brooklyn — Portland is the last team in the league the Nets had not yet faced this season.
The Nets entered the break off a 148-139 triple-overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, just their second win in their last seven games before the All-Star Game.
The Blazers have lost three of their last five, but their last game before the break was a 129-107 throttling of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in Portland.
Brooklyn gets a bit healthier as well. Rodions Kurucs missed the final game before the All-Star Game with a sprained left elbow before playing in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, while Jared Dudley has been cleared to return after missing the last 16 games with a hamstring injury.
Portland may be without its three-time All-NBA point guard, Damian Lillard, who is questionable with a sprained left ankle. Lillard played 25 minutes in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
This game kicks off a seven-game road trip for the Blazers, who are only 10-15 on the road this season. After leaving Brooklyn, the Trail Blazers visit Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Charlotte and Memphis.
The Nets, meanwhile, will play six of their next eight at Barclays Center, with the only road games being Saturday at Charlotte and March 2 at Miami.
Brooklyn hasn’t beaten Portland at Barclays Center since April 6, 2015, losing the last three meetings, but did post a road win at Moda Center on Nov. 10, 2017.
Here are three things to watch when the Nets and Trail Blazers meet Thursday.