7:00 PM EST, NBA TV – Line: Nets -8, Over/Under: 244
When teams start clinching Playoff spots you know that the Postseason is right around the corner, and that is precisely where we found ourselves as the Brooklyn Nets meet the decimated Indiana Pacers from Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. It really should come as no surprise that the Nets (42-20, 1st in Eastern Conference) became the first team in the East to clinch a Playoff Birth, particularly given their ascension to the top of the National Basketball Association since engineering the blockbuster trade to acquire (2017-2018 MVP) James Harden (25.4 PTS, 46.7% FG, 36.1% 3FG, 8.7 REB, 11.0 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.7 BLK, 25.0 PER) back in mid-January. Since that seismic deal involving three other teams, Brooklyn has gone a resounding 35-14, climbing to the top of the conference even though it’s been quite some time since they’ve bee able to count upon a fully healthy roster. Of course, this franchise made their intentions clear a year ago when they added a pair of All-NBA talents to the fold in the form of (2013-2014 MVP) Kevin Durant (27.1 PTS, 54.7% FG, 47.1% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.3 BLK, 26.7 PER) and (2015-2016 NBA Champion) Kyrie Irving (26.9 PTS, 50.3% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 6.4 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.6 BLK, 24.4 PER), looking to build the league’s next super team. Even with Durant missing all of last season following an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals, and Irving relegated to just twenty games in his first season in the Big Apple, this was a team poised to contend in the future, though nobody could have thought that they would be able to pull off the four-team extravaganza that was Harden’s acquisition, particularly during the middle of the season. However, that’s exactly what they did and they completely dismantled their rotation in the process, parting ways with promising young stars such as (Center) Jarrett Lee and (Swingman) Caris LeVert (more on him in a bit) along with a cache of draft picks, all in an effort to team Harden together with Irving and Durant. Unsurprisingly, this group has evolved into a bonafide offensive juggernaut, averaging a whopping 118.8 points per game on 49.5% shooting from the field, including 38.9% from beyond the arc, along with 27.0 assists in comparison to committing just 12.8 turnovers. What has been surprising though is that they’ve been able to maintain this production with this latest Big Three rarely on the hardwood together; (Head Coach) Steve Nash has only been able to call upon Harden, Durant, and Irving in the same game on a mere SEVEN occasions, with each superstar missing there share of time. Durant missed twenty-seven out of twenty-eight games at one point with a tender hamstring, while Harden has since missed thirteen of the last fourteen outings with a hamstring issue of his own, and following a setback in his recovery will continue to miss an indefinite amount of time. While it’s certainly a testament to Nash and his Coaching Staff for their ability to remain successful with their stars missing so much time, the concern is becoming that this group simply hasn’t spent enough time together to develop the requisite chemistry to compete for a championship. Sure, two out of three of Harden, Durant, and Irving is good enough to win games, and lots of them at that, but competing in a series is a different matter altogether, particularly when you consider some of the other issues that have been bubbling under the surface for months now. Chemistry aside, this team will score points, but they’ve been far from impressive on the opposite end of the court, where their defensive nous have routinely been tested; since acquiring Harden, the Nets have relinquished 114.4 points on 46.6% shooting from the field, including 36.6% from downtown, with 24.3 assists opposed to forcing just 12.1 turnovers. Neither Harden or Irving have ever been confused with being stoppers on defense, and after shipping out the aforementioned Lee, Brooklyn has been forced to rely upon a number of veterans to patrol the paint, be it DeAndre Jordan (7.7 PTS, 77.9% FG, 7.5 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.2 BLK, 17.4 PER), or Blake Griffin (9.8 PTS, 49.5% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 2.4 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.9 PER) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12.8 PTS, 52.1% FG, 4.8 REB, 2.6 AST, 2.2 BLK, 18.3 PER), the latter two who were acquired as buyouts. Unfortunately, Aldridge’s stay with the franchise was all-too brief, playing in just five games before an irregular heartbeat caused the 35-year old to call it a career. Look for Nash to rely more upon (young Center) Nicolas Claxton (6.6 PTS, 58.3% FG, 5.0 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.2 BLK, 16.5 PER), who has impressed when given the opportunity while Jordan and Griffin continue to log starter’s minutes.
“We recognize now that we’re not going to have the luxury of a run of games with everyone available, and we may not have that to start the playoffs… It’s been like an avalanche of relentless injuries, games and travel and it’s just part of the challenge for this team.”Steve Nash on the decreasing likelihood that the Nets will be afforded much time for their triumvirate of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving to build further chemistry in lieu of the Playoffs, with Harden continuing to miss time rehabbing from a strained hamstring.
When we last saw the Nets, they managed to win their third consecutive contest and clinch a place in the Postseason as a result, rallying back to best the Toronto Raptors in a 116-103 affair on Tuesday Night in their temporary home in Tampa, Florida. Brooklyn trailed 90-84 midway through the Fourth Quarter, only to engineer a 16-2 run to swing momentum firmly into their corner as the aforementioned Durant totaled seven on his seventeen points in the final stanza. During the period, Nash’s troops outscored the hosts 36-20, shooting a blistering 13-of-19 from the field (68.4%), including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc (54.5%), owning a 12-point advantage in that regard. It was damn near perfect offense from the visiting side, who assisted on ten of their thirteen field goals and committed ZERO turnovers in the process, while Toronto simply couldn’t keep up, running out of gas late shooting a meager 7-of-21 from the floor (33.3%), including a miserable 2-of-10 from the perimeter (20.0%). In the end it was a total team effort for the Nets, who fielded seven different players to score in double-digits, led by (journeyman Forward) Jeff Green (10.6 PTS, 47.6% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.6 STL, 12.2 PER), who finished with twenty-two points on 8-of-16 shooting (50.0%), with eight rebounds. Griffin added seventeen of his own, along with six rebounds and a pair of steals, while (sharpshooting Guard) Joe Harris chipped in with sixteen points and six assists, knocking down 4-of-9 attempts from downtown (44.4%). This was a very telling performance given the lack of depth at Nash’s disposal; in addition to Harden’s absence, Brooklyn was also without Claxton who is currently subject to the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, (unsung Guard) Bruce Brown (8.8 PTS, 54.6% FG, 29.1% 3FG, 5.2 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 15.7 PER) who sat out due to swelling in his knee, along with Chris Chiozza (4.0 PTS, 35.2% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 1.1 REB, 3.0 AST, 13.0 PER) who will miss the rest of the campaign following surgery to repair his right hand. Remarkably, the only Net not to score in double-figures was Irving, who ended the night with a season-low nine points on just 3-of-13 shooting (23.1%). The newly-signed Mike James (7.0 PTS, 50.0% FG, 2.0 REB, 3.7 AST, 19.6 PER) showed out in just his third appearance with the franchise, scoring all eleven of his points in the Fourth Quarter, netting 4-of-5 attempts overall (80.0%) and dishing out a team-high eight assists off the bench. This contest marked a stretch in which the Nets will play seven of their next eight games on the road, and with Harden taking part in light activities in practice, it doesn’t appear that this team will be able to count upon building further chemistry among it’s stars before the Playoffs begin, which means that all of thee unheralded pieces of the supporting cast who have enjoyed their moments must continue to make plays when counted upon.
Meanwhile, the Pacers (29-32, 9th in Eastern Conference) find themselves at the opposite end of the Playoff field in the East, simply looking to avoid falling out of the Play-In altogether. Currently residing in ninth place, Indiana owns a two-game lead over the surging Washington Wizards, though given their recent form the danger of missing out on the Postseason for the first time in six years is very real. Simply put, there is never a good time to suffer a rash of injuries, but that is precisely what has afflicted this team, who are currently without three starters, including a pair of stalwarts in their Frontcourt, namely (All-Star Center) Domantas Sabonis (19.9 PTS, 52.0% FG, 30.2% 3FG, 11.6 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.5 BLK, 19.7 PER) and fellow big man, Myles Turner (12.6 PTS, 47.7% FG, 33.5% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.9 STL, 3.4 BLK, 15.5 PER). Sabonis, who has steadily improved in each of his five seasons in the NBA, has now missed five consecutive games due to pain in his lower back, while Turner, who leads the Association with a whopping 3.4 blocks per game, partially tore the plantar plate on his big toe, missing eleven of the last twelve games as a result. Put it altogether and (Head Coach) Nate Bjorkgren is without a combined 32.5 points, 18.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and 3.9 blocks per game, not to mention a pair of bigs who complement each other near perfectly. Unfortunately, the Pacers have been no stranger to injuries, with a number of other players having missed significant time due to various maladies. (Prolific Swingman) T.J. Warren (15.5 PTS, 52.9% FG, 3.5 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 11.8 PER), who was one of the bigger stories of the Bubble, played in just four games before undergoing season-ending foot surgery, while fellow Guard, Jeremy Lamb (10.1 PTS, 43.5% FG, 40.6% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.0 PER), has been relegated to just thirty-six games with a knee injury. And then there is Caris LeVert (18.7 PTS, 43.5% FG, 27.2% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 4.0 AST, 1.6 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.2 PER), who arrived as part of that aforementioned blockbuster that sent Harden to Brooklyn. LeVert, who spent the first four seasons of his career in Brooklyn was considered the franchise’s long-term replacement for Victor Oladipo, who was also a cog in that deal, though the impact of his arrival would be deferred due to a truly outstanding turn of events. You see, when LeVert underwent his team medical following the trade, a cancerous mass was identified by the team doctors to exist on his lung, necessitating surgery which would in turn keep him from making his debut with the Pacers for nearly two months. With that said, the 26-year old has begin to settle into his new surroundings quite nicely, averaging 22.7 points on 47.0% shooting over the last ten games, along with 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, though that production hasn’t necessarily translated to success as Indiana has since split those contests. The issue is that without the aforementioned Sabonis and Turner patrolling the painted area, Indiana has struggled IMMENSELY on the defensive end, yielding 120.2 points on 45.9% shooting from the field, including 36.6% from beyond the arc, with 25.2 assists in comparison to forcing just 13.1 turnovers, all the while getting manhandled on the glass by a margin of 8.1 boards per game. Furthermore, opponents are securing 14.6 offensive rebounds during this stretch, which has granted a wealth of easy, second-chance opportunities at the rim. Five of their last six opponents have logged fifteen or more offensive rebounds, which is a big reason that three of their last four have managed to attempt over 100 field goal attempts. Bjorkgren will be hoping to get his bigs back in action before it’s too late, for this is a franchise that has desperately searched for a way to progress past the First Round of the Playoffs after five consecutive exits. Navigating through the Play-In could prove to be difficult, for even if they were to advance to past that initial salvo, either Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee would be awaiting them, and in any of those matchups Indiana would be prohibitive underdogs to say the least. Tonight’s meeting with the Nets marks the third and final of the Regular Season between these sides, with the Pacers falling in each of the previous two meetings; they lost the first encounter at Barclays Center (104-94) back on February 10th, before falling in the latest meeting at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a 124-115 affair in which the hosts wasted a 40-25 First Quarter thanks in large part to the hosts planting their flag at the charity stripe (31-of-40 FTA), with Harden totaling forty points, ten rebounds, and fifteen assists as both Durant and Irving were sidelined due to injury. Fortunately for them, the bearded assassin will miss tonight’s contest.
“It was the 3s and the obvious one was Simons out there and Lillard and McCollum out there… We needed to do a better job of contesting there. The glass got away from us, too, but the game really got away from us on the arc.”Nate Bjorkgren on Indiana’s 133-112 loss at home to Portland in which they relinquished 20 three-pointers and were outrebounded 57-38, as their three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt.
When we last saw the Pacers, they saw their three-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers in a disappointing 133-112 defeat at home on Tuesday Night. This one was all about three-point shooting and rebounding, and Indiana found themselves wanting in a major way in both regards; Portland outscored them by a staggering THIRTY points from beyond the arc, knocking down 20-of-35 attempts (57.1%), marking just the third time all year in which an opponent has totaled twenty or more triples against them. The unheralded Anfernee Simons drilled 9-of-10 attempts all by himself, nearly outgunning the hosts from the perimeter. Bjorkgren’s charges simply couldn’t keep up, netting 10-of-30 attempts from downtown (33.3%), with (Canadian International) Oshae Brissett (9.4 PTS, 51.7% FG, 45.2% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.6 STL, 19.8 PER) drilling 4-of-7 attempts (57.1%) en route to a team-high eighteen points, continuing to make good on the ten-day contract that he signed in the middle of the month. The troubling trend of getting outmanned on the glass continued without the missing Sabonis and Turner, as the Pacers were blasted on the boards 57-38, with the visiting side logging TWENTY offensive rebounds, leading to 106 attempts from the field, twenty more than the hosts. Simply put, you’re not going to win many games in which your opponent is getting that many more looks than you, and the Pacers never really managed to get close in this one, trailing by as many as FORTY-THREE points. In the end, Indiana shot 46.5% as a team, with Malcolm Brogdon (21.5 PTS, 45.5% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 18.3 PER) matching Brissett’s total of eighteen points to lead the way, though only shot 5-of-14 from the floor (35.7%), including a miserable 1-of-7 from three (14.3%). The aforementioned LeVert added sixteen points on a healthier 7-of-14 shooting (50.0%), along with three rebounds and a pair of assists, though neither player saw much action past the Third Quarter, for the affair was indeed well out of hand and Bjorkgren only has so many healthy bodies at his disposal. The loss dropped them to just 11-18 at home this season, and with just seven games to be contested at home the likelihood is that this team will see their 31-year streak of owning a winning record at home come to a halt. With that said, there is still time to secure their place in the Playoffs, for five of their next six games come against teams with losing records, including two MAJOR showdowns with the Wizards who trail them in the standings by just a pair of games for tenth. The time is now for Indiana, though they’ll need an inspired showing, particularly without their bigs, in order to overcome one of the giants en route to advancing to the Playoffs for a sixth consecutive term.