7:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Nets -3.5, Over/Under: 234
Stars collide in the Lone Star State as the Brooklyn Nets look to keep their hopes of obtaining the top seed in the East alive against the Dallas Mavericks, who simply wish to avoid participating in the Play-In Tournament altogether, with these teams set to face off from American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Losers of a season-high three consecutive games, time is running out for the Nets (43-23, 2nd in Eastern Conference) to secure home court advantage within the East, what with just six games left in the Regular Season. Throughout 2020-2021 it has been a proverbial three-horse race for supremacy within the conference between Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee with the three teams currently separated by just 2.5 games in the standings, though (Head Coach) Steve Nash’s side are coming off back-to-back defeats to the Bucks (more on this later), in which they conceded a valuable tiebreaker in the event that they end up on equal footing in two weeks. Why is owning the No. One Seed so important, you ask? Well, when you consider the difficulty in getting to the NBA Finals, would rather have to face one of these teams or two? Of course, MUCH is expected of the Nets this season, particularly after engineering the NBA’s latest 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 in a seismic deal involving three other teams, Brooklyn has gone a resounding 35-17, climbing to within striking distance of the East’s summit 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 (28.3 PTS, 54.6% FG, 47.9% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 5.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.2 BLK, 27.1 PER) and (2015-2016 NBA Champion) Kyrie Irving (27.0 PTS, 50.0% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 6.3 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.6 STL, 24.1 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 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 118.7 points per game on 49.3% shooting from the field, including 38.8% from beyond the arc, along with 26.8 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; Nash has only been able to call upon Harden, Durant, and Irving at the same time on a mere SEVEN occasions, with each superstar missing their share of time. Durant missed twenty-seven out of twenty-eight games at one point with a tender calf muscle, while Harden has since missed seventeen of the last eighteen 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 114.9 points on 46.7% shooting from the field, including 36.7% from downtown, with 24.1 assists opposed to forcing just 12.0 turnovers. Furthermore, during this three-game skid they’ve yielded a miserable 123.0 points on 48.4% shooting from the floor, which simply isn’t good enough against the better teams in the Association, which is what they faced in the form of Milwaukee. 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 (7.6 PTS, 76.3% FG, 7.6 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.2 BLK, 17.1 PER), or Blake Griffin (9.7 PTS, 48.2% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.6 BLK, 15.8 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 (6.3 PTS, 58.3% FG, 4.8 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.2 BLK, 16.5 PER), who has impressed when given the opportunity while Jordan and Griffin continue to log starter’s minutes.
“They were overall more physical than us on both ends of the floor.”Steve Nash on the Nets struggles in back-to-back losses against the Bucks, who bested them in a 124-118 affair on Tuesday Night, securing the tiebreaker between the teams and pulling within one game of Brooklyn in the loss column.
When we last saw the Nets, they lost a valuable tiebreaker against their direct competition in the East, falling in narrow fashion to the Milwaukee Bucks for the second time in three nights, 124-118. While Sunday’s thriller was very much the Kevin Durant Show, with the four-time scoring champion matching a season-high with forty-two points on 16-of-33 shooting (48.5%), Tuesday Night’s affair was a much more balanced effort even if the outcome didn’t change. The visitors trailed by as much as eleven points in the First Half, heading into Halftime down 66-58, though would gain control of the contest for a brief period in the Second Half, amassing a 10-point lead of their own. However, Milwaukee would rip off an 18-1 run to swing momentum back firmly back into their corner, with the Fourth Quarter proving to be the tipping point; the visitors relied heavily upon their perimeter shooting in the period with all but three of their field goals coming from downtown (5-of-11 3FG), though they only shot 8-of-20 overall from the field (40.0%), while they struggled immensely to stop the hosts from getting to the rim when they wanted, relinquishing 13-of-25 shooting (52.0%). In the end, the Nets improved greatly on their disappointing 42.7% shooting over the weekend, netting 48.8% of their attempts from the floor, including 20-of-43 from beyond the arc (46.5%), though did miss ten of their twenty-six free-throws (61.5%) on the night, which proved to be crucial in such a close contest. Durant would go on to finish with thirty-two points on 11-of-22 shooting (50.0%), including 4-of-8 from downtown (50.0%), along with nine rebounds, six assists, and a pair of blocks, while Irving dropped a game-high thirty-eight points on a torrid 14-of-25 shooting (56.0%), including 6-of-12 from three (50.0%), which was a major improvement over his 8-of-21 performance (38.1%) on Sunday. The same can be said for (journeyman) Jeff Green () and (sharpshooter) Joe Harris (), who in the previous meeting could manage only a combined twelve points on 4-of-13 shooting (30.8%), including 2-of-8 from long range (25.0%), only make much more of an impact on Tuesday with a cumulative twenty-two points on 7-of-15 shooting (46.6%) and 6-of-11 from distance (54.5%). Defensively, they did a better job of defending the home side, but couldn’t keep them off the charity stripe, where they knocked down 22-of-27 free-throws (81.5%), and were once again pummeled in the paint where they were outscored 44-30. Nash’s troops will have to turn things around quickly if they wish to remain in pursuit of the top seed in the East, though the rest of their schedule isn’t very accommodating; three of their final six opponents would be in the postseason if it began today, with three games left on this current road trip, including a visit to the Mavericks, who bested them in a 115-98 rout back on February 27th.
Meanwhile, with just seven games remaining on their schedule the Mavericks (37-28, 5th in Western Conference) are desperate to avoid participating in the Play-In, and if they manage to maintain their recent form then they will likely do just that. Winners of seven of their last nine outings, Dallas has managed to take advantage of the struggles of their direct competition out West, what with the Los Angeles Lakers treading water without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Portland Trail Blazers in freefall for the better part of two weeks. As a result, (Head Coach) Rick Carlisle’s charges have risen to fifth in the standings, while owning valuable tiebreakers against both sides, which could come in handy in the event that the three sides end up on equal footing at the conclusion of the Regular Season. Of course, the Mavs have come a long way this season, particularly when you consider how they were afflicted by COVID-19 earlier in the campaign; at one point earlier this season Dallas was just 8-13, with a number of players missing significant action due the league’s Health and Safety Protocols as the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith (9.8 PTS, 46.8% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 5.6 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.1 PER), Josh Richardson (12.2 PTS, 42.4% FG, 32.2% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 2.7 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.4 PER), Maxi Kleber (7.2 PTS, 42.5% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 5.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.7 BLK, 10.5 PER), Dwight Powell (5.5 PTS, 59.0% FG, 3.7 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.6 STL, 16.1 PER) and Jalen Brunson (12.6 PTS, 52.0% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 16.9 PER) missed a combined fifty-nine games due to the virus, which also caused them to pause all activities for over a week in the middle of February. Oh, and the team’s second-leading scorer, Kristaps Porzingis (20.2 PTS, 47.3% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 9.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, 21.2 PER), has missed twenty-two games, including the first nine contests rehabbing from Offseason knee surgery along with soreness in said knee and in his lower back. Needless to say, Carlisle has been one of the busier coaches in the league when it comes reshuffling his rotation, for the 61-year old has utilized a league-high TWENTY-EIGHT different starting lineups thus far. Fortunately, the quality of this group would eventually reveal itself as the roster returned to full strength, for the Mavs have done some serious climbing since the All-Star Break, putting together a 19-12 since then. During this latest run they’ve averaged a stellar 117.2 points per game on 49.0% shooting from the field, including 38.8% from beyond the arc, while dishing out 23.8 assists in comparison to committing just 12.0 turnovers, all the while yielding 109.9 points a night. Even though their COVD-19 woes have gone by the wayside they have nonetheless found themselves victims of the bumps, bruises, and fatigue that are oh so common at this stage of the Regular Season; Kleber missed the last outing, a 127-113 victory over the Miami Heat (more on that shortly), with a tender Achilles, while Porzingis has missed six of the last seven games with soreness in that same knee that he had surgically-repaired in the Fall. Neither player is expected to suit up for tonight’s matchup with Brooklyn. Fortunately, there are a number of players who have picked up the slack of late, particularly Brunson, who has emerged as Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and (veteran Guard) Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.3 PTS, 44.0% FG, 38.8% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 15.0 PER), who has caught fire of late, averaging 26.8 points on 53.7% shooting, including 52.6% from downtown over the last four games, in which he posted a career-high forty-two points in Dallas’ 115-105 victory over the Detroit Pistons last week. The supporting cast rising to the occasion must be welcoming news to (All-NBA Guard) Luka Doncic (28.5 PTS, 48.7% FG, 35.6% 3FG, 8.1 REB, 8.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.6 BLK, 25.8 PER), who has been one of the few healthy players throughout this wild and crazy campaign. The 22-year old has continued his meteoric rise to superstardom in 2020-2021, shooting a career-high 48.7% from the field, including 35.6% from downtown, and has amassed a staggering THIRTY-SIX games with at least twenty-five points, five rebounds, and five assists, which leads the NBA. Since the All-Star Break, has has averaged 28.4 points on a stellar 49.7% shooting from the floor and 35.5% from three, while adding 7.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. The betting favorite for MVP coming into this season, the Slovenian International will likely relish the opportunity to face the star-studded Nets, who were without both Durant and Irving in their previous meeting back in late February. On that night, Doncic totaled a team-high twenty-seven points on 11-of-21 shooting (52.4%), along with six rebounds, seven assists, and a pair of steals, while Brunson and Hardaway combined for twenty-seven off the bench, as the Mavericks went on to outscore the hosts 47-34 in the Second Half. The hosts were relegated to a mere 32.5% shooting after Halftime, including a miserable 4-of-21 from the perimeter (19.0%).
“We’re just we’re going day-to-day with what we need to do to prepare for each given game… Players are aware of standings and all the machinations going on there. We’ve got to stay in the present, we’ve got to stay process oriented and we’ve got to do the things that bring us success.”Rick Carlisle on the Mavericks continued push to avoid the Play-In, as Tuesday Night’s 127-113 victory over the Heat guaranteed a postseason birth for a second straight year.
When we last saw the Mavericks, they managed to climb into fifth place out West on the strength of a convincing 127-113 victory over the Miami Heat, a game they trailed early though rallied in torrid fashion. Things started quickly for both teams, with each side shooting 60.0% or better from the field in the first Quarter, in which the hosts would hold a 39-30 advantage shooting 15-of-22 shooting (68.2%), including an insane 8-of-9 from beyond the arc (88.9%). However, this attack would prove to be unsustainable, as Dallas flipped the script in the Second Quarter in which they outscored Miami 33-15, limiting them to a scant 4-of-22 from the field (18.2%) and 1-of-11 from downtown (09.1%). Carlisle’s troops would have no such issues putting the ball in the hoop, shooting a stellar 12-of-22 themselves (54.5%), including 7-of-16 from three (43.8%), as the aforementioned Doncic and Hardaway combined for seventeen points and 5-of-7 shooting from the perimeter (71.4%). That would be all the visiting side needed to get the job done moving forward, with Hardaway exploding for thirty-six points and tying a franchise record with ten three-pointers in the same arena that his father played in for six years and his jersey retired. Doncic would add twenty-three points on 8-of-15 shooting (53.3%), including 5-of-10 from long range (50.0%), along with twelve rebounds and eight assists despite committing seven of his team’s thirteen turnovers. Brunson chipped in with nineteen off the bench on 7-of-12 shooting (58.3%), while Richardson finished with seventeen of his own on 6-of-11 shooting (54.5%). As a team the Mavs really let it rain against the heat, pouring in 22-of-48 threes (45.8%), marking just the sixth time all season that they have nailed twenty or more triples. The rest of the way, Dallas will be facing a schedule that is far from arduous, for after tonight’s meeting with Brooklyn they will encounter just one team with a winning record (Memphis), with back-to-back meetings with the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers on deck before closing out the campaign with Minnesota Timberwolves.