Nets return home to play Cleveland

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Three straight. No not three straight wins or three straight losses, but three straight overtime games. And just like the game in New Orleans on Monday night, Brooklyn ran out of gas and lost in overtime, this time in Charlotte. The Nets are 2.5 games behind the Bulls for the fourth seed and Toronto for the Atlantic Division. This isn't impossible to make up, but it's gonna be pretty tough to do.

Coming into Brooklyn this evening will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite the injuries, management shakeup and terrible play, they're still within striking distance of the eighth seed. At 29-44, the Cavs find themselves three games behind Atlanta for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. They've won three straight, including a buzzer beater in Detroit on Wednesday.

This is the third meeting of the season. The Cavs won the Opening Night contest and Brooklyn took game two in January. Their last meeting will be on the last day of the regular season.

The season so far

What's up with these teams? Let's check the numbers:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Cleveland

Record

37-33 29-44

Pace

93.69 95.53

Offensive Efficiency

104.1 100.5

Defensive Efficiency

104.3 105

Offensive Rebounding percentage

21.7 27.5

Turnover rate

15 14.9

Assist rate

16.7 16

Rebound rate

47 51

Free throw rate

31.6 26.9

Effective Field Goal percentage

50.8 47.5

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.5 50.8

No word on the status on Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko as of this writing. Kirilenko has missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle and Thornton missed the game in Charlotte due to a back injury. Garnett hasn't played this month due to a back injury.

Going into the season, these Nets-Cavs games stood out because we would have gotten to see Deron Williams and Kyrie Irving square off. They played in the opener, but Williams was working his way back from injury. Irving missed the second game and won't be here for this one. As for Williams, he's coming off a great game against Kemba Walker and the Bobcats on Wednesday. He lit up the Cavaliers the last time he faced them and figures to light up Jarrett Jack and company again.

Kyrie Irving is out of action (again). The star guard is out with a biceps injury although there's a slight (slight!) chance he returns this season. Prior to his injury, he was averaging 21 points and six assists in about 36 minutes a night. More on him at a later date. Also, noted Net nemesis C.J. Miles is dealing with an ankle injury. No word on his status as of this writing.

The Cavs roster is dramatically different from when they last played the Nets. The Cavaliers traded for Luol Deng in early January (three days after the game against the Nets in fact) and got Spencer Hawes from Philadelphia at the deadline. More on Deng in a bit. As for Hawes, he's continued his success from three point range with Cleveland, making 41 percent of his three point attempts.

There were plenty of rumors surrounding Dion Waiters, but he's still here. The second year player is averaging 15 points and three assists on 43 percent shooting in 29 minutes a game. In all honesty, Waiters has been awful and a disastrous draft pick at fourth overall. In his defense, this is only his second season and there's been a lot of turmoil in Cleveland so that's probably had an adverse effect on him. Shaun Livingston will be tasked with covering him, and his length and quickness should be more than enough to stifle Waiters.

The Nets are still one of the league's worst rebounding teams, and that bodes well for Anderson Varejao. Even though he's dealt with injuries this season (and throughout his career), Varejao is one of the top ten rebounders in the Association this year. He isn't a player that usually gets his own shot on offense, but can hit the occasional midrange jumper. Andray Blatche, Mason Plumlee and the other Net big men figure to have trouble keeping him off the glass, but the Nets can work around that.

Player to watch: Luol Deng

What was the general perception about Deng when he moved to Cleveland? John Krolik over at Cavs: The Blog breaks it down:

As of now, I love this deal. The Cavs can get some pride back, some wins under their belt, make an actual run at a playoff seed, and feel like a real basketball team again. Despite the current theory that tanking is a panacea, that strategy generally works just as well for getting teams out of the gutter than bottoming out does. However, I will want to eat a compact fluorescent lightbulb if the team signs Deng at $15-17 million through his age 32 year, because he’s not going to take the team any further than the first round and at some point his next contract will become an albatross. (Joe Johnson is currently 32. That should terrify you.) If the Cavs extend Deng immediately, I will go insane. If they extend him on the strength of a first-round playoff appearance and exit, I will also go insane.

Since the trade, the Cavaliers have gone 16-18 in the games Deng has appeared. Deng is only averaging 14.7 points as a Cav, but that could be a result of playing fewer minutes as well as a drop in usage rate. Technically speaking, the Cavs are better defensively with Deng, but that's not saying all that much. The Cavaliers allow 107 points per 100 possessions and 108.2 without him.

Deng will be covering Joe Johnson for much of the evening. Even though the Cavs are terrible defensively, Deng is not. He has earned the reputation of being one of the league's better pwing defenders. He has the strength to contest with Johnson in the low post. He's also got the length and quickness to close out on Johnson as he camps out on the perimeter. And, he's heady enough to counteract everything else Johnson sends his way. I don't expect Deng to have a big game on offense (he's the third option on Cleveland), but he's still someone that the Nets have to watch out for.

From the Vault

Head on back to 1993 and see Drazen Petrovic in action against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.


More reading: Fear The Sword

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