The stakes are high for the Nets and Bobcats

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After a rough loss in Washington on Saturday, the Nets were looking to bounce back. They were able to do so and beat ninth seeded (in the Western Conference) Phoenix at home on Monday. The Nets are 34-31 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They've gotten a great amount of help over the past couple of days, with Chicago, Toronto AND Washington all losing their last games.

Making their second and final trip to Brooklyn this season will be the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats are having their best season in years and are in position to make the playoffs. They're in the seventh position in the Eastern Conference with a one game lead over Atlanta and 5.5 game lead over resurgent New York.

The season series between these teams is tied at one with their fourth and final meeting taking place on March 26 in Charlotte. Ben Swanson over at Rufus on Fire took note of the playoff teams' upcoming schedule and wrote:

The Nets and Wizards each have eight games in the same time the Bobcats have seven, so the extra rest could be advantageous. Brooklyn's schedule looks to be a bit easier with games against Boston, New Orleans, Cleveland and Minnesota. But the Wizards have a tough stretch of games in the next couple weeks with a four-game West coast trip and home games against the Suns and Pacers.

With the Bobcats trying to play leapfrog, they can't really afford to struggle as they did today against the Bucks if they want to catch someone sleeping and hunt down a better seed for the playoffs. As shocking as it might be, they probably won't win out the rest of the season. And neither will the other teams. But Charlotte will need consistent effort to finish the season strong with the best chance to catch up.

The season so far

What's up with these playoff contenders? The numbers will help paint the picture:

Metric

Brooklyn

Charlotte

Record

34-31 33-35

Pace

94 95.15

Offensive Efficiency

103.4 100.1

Defensive Efficiency

103.9 101.3

Offensive Rebounding percentage

21.7 21.1

Turnover rate

15.4 13.1

Assist rate

16.7 16.8

Rebound rate

47.1 48.9

Free throw rate

31.4 30.1

Effective Field Goal percentage

50.7 47.8

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.5 49.2

We won't be seeing Kevin Garnett until next week at the earliest. Garnett has been ruled out of action the rest of this week and will be reevaluated on Saturday. Along with Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko is dealing with another injury. He bruised his left toe and sat out practice on Tuesday. His status for this game is unknown. There are no major injuries on Charlotte.

Deron Williams bounced back from a poor game against the Wizards and played excellently against Phoenix. He made 11 of his 13 attempts (including three from downtown) and thoroughly outplayed Phoenix's backcourt duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Williams left the first Charlotte game early due to injury and struggled in Game Two, but he figures to be much better this time around.

The Joe Johnson - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist matchup figures to be intriguing. Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't made a big improvement offensively, but he's been very helpful on defense. The former number two pick uses his length and quickness to disrupt opponents and has helped the Cats to a Top Ten ranking in defensive efficiency (they're four points better per 100 possessions with him on the court). As for Johnson, he will look to use his size advantage in the post against MKG. Johnson has been playing well over his last five games (Miami being the only clunker) as he's been averaging 15 points a night on 50 percent shooting from the field across that time period.

Both teams feature rookie big men that have been progressing nicely as the season has gone on. With Garnett out, Mason Plumlee has stepped into the starting lineup and has been playing well despite his foul troubles. When Brook Lopez returns next season, there'll be discussion (for what it's worth, I think it's foolish discussion but whatever) as to whether or not they should move him, but the Nets will have a nice group of big guys in Lopez, Garnett, Plumlee and Andray Blatche. On the other side, Cody Zeller doesn't get that many minutes but has been making positive strides. He's shooting 47 percent in 17 minutes a night in the second half after only 38 percent in the first half. As is the case with every player, how you utilize them is critical and it sounds as if the Cats have been doing a good job in that regard.

One constant theme for the Nets that's been discussed over the past couple of months has been their lack of size. With Lopez and Garnett out of action, they've had trouble on the glass and against the top big men in the league. With that in mind, Al Jefferson figures to cause Brooklyn a lot of trouble. The big fella is averaging 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds a night in 34.3 minutes a night. Jefferson was named Player of the Week for his stretch of play from March 10 to March 17. He's made his living this season close to the basket and has converted on 61 percent of his 574 attempts inside of eight feet. I thought he got to the free throw line more often, but five FTAs a night isn't bad. He missed the November matchup and was outplayed by the Nets' crew of big men in February, so look for him to be aggressive early.

Player to watch: Kemba Walker

Walker has been having another decent season for Charlotte. In 35.7 minutes a game, the third year player is averaging 17.8 points and 5.8 assists with only 2.4 turnovers. One positive trend that has continued for Walker has been his three point shooting. He isn't great at it, but he's shooting a respectable 34.5 percent from three point range this season. Coming into the season, Walker had developed a reputation for being one of the league's better pull up jump shooters. However, he's only shooting 36.9 percent on his pull up jumpers this year, which places him in the middle of the league rankings. To be fair to Walker, he has dealt with injuries this season so that could be the cause for some of his struggles.

Shaun Livingston figures to have the assignment of slowing down Walker. Like MKG for Charlotte, Livingston uses his length and quickness to disrupt opponents. There's been discussion that Livingston's career high in minutes and games played (he'll pass that by next week) might slow him down, but that doesn't figure to affect Livingston in this contest. Walker likes to drive to the basket (six times a game) and is reasonably successful at it (four points a night along with four free throws a game), so look for Livingston and the Nets will look to play off him and keep him on the perimeter. Walker is a decent jump shooter, but isn't an automatic from that area.

From the Vault

We're about a month removed from the All Star Game, but it never hurts to watch Glen Rice put on a show.


More reading: Rufus on Fire

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