For three and a half quarters, the Brooklyn Nets were competitive against one of the best teams in the league. Then Kevin Durant happened. KD and Russell Westbrook combined to put the Nets away late and the Thunder came away with a 110-99 victory at home on Wednesday. It pays to have two of the five best players in the league on your roster. This is the first night of a back-to-back. They close out the month of November against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday evening.
The opponent this evening will be the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are sitting atop the East and are undefeated at home. This is the second night of a back-to-back for Cleveland. They beat the Hornets 95-90 in Charlotte on Black Friday.
Where to follow the game
YES Network on TV (if you're lucky enough), WFAN 101.9 FM on the radio. Tip off is after 8 PM.
Willie Reed has yet to play this year after injuring his thumb in the preseason, but he is making progress.
We've got a party here. Kyrie Irving is making progress from the knee injury he suffered in last year's Finals, but the Jersey native will be in street clothes this evening. Iman Shumpert underwent wrist surgery prior to the start of the season and will also be out. Starting center Timofey Mozgov had been dealing with a bad shoulder and was expected to be out another week, but he came back last night against the Hornets. Matthew Delladedova has been dealing with a sore calf and missed Wednesday's game in Toronto. He made his return on Friday as well. Mo Williams had been out two games with a sore right ankle, but he returned to action on Wednesday and came off the bench.
You'd think being atop the East would have everyone happy, but the Cavaliers still believe there's a lot of room for improvement. Looking way ahead, but the Christmas Day game against the Warriors will be a great test for this bunch.
We keep waiting for it, but the LeBron James decline doesn't appear to be coming any time soon. Over the summer, Adam Mares of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote about Bron and the changing nature of the NBA, saying:
LeBron’s ability to push and pull defenders in two directions and then make the appropriate read with perfect timing is a large part of what makes him one of the best players in the history of the game. The open shots that LeBron can create by virtue of his talent are the same shots that other teams can only get through complex, high motion offensive sets. However, as the game evolves further and further away from isolation, LeBron’s spread pick-and-roll style may be becoming a Blackberry in a world of iPhones.
One month in, LeBron is playing up to his usually high standards. He's fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 25 points a night to go along with seven rebounds and six assists on 51 percent shooting from the field. Curiously, his three point and free throw shooting numbers have continued to decline. His percentage from three has decreased each of the past four seasons and the same can be said of his FT percentage. In fact, he's shooting a career low ___ from the foul line. Despite all that, he's playing at an MVP level and has the Cavs atop the East.
Defending the Cavs will be incredibly difficult for Brooklyn. Cleveland is fourth in three point attempts (28 per game) and seventh in efficiency (37 percent). Brooklyn on the other hand has allowed the fourth most three point attempts a night as well as the fourth highest percentage from deep.
After having to defend Kevin Durant on Wednesday, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be tasked with trying to contain Bron. The schedule makers were taking part in some rookie hazing when they scheduled the last two games. RHJ will put up a good fight and will continue to impress people around the league.
Bron has said he wants Kevin Love to take on more of a role in the offense, and one month in, it looks like it's happening. Love's usage rate has gone up compared to last year and he's back in the low post after spending most of last year drifting behind the three point line. His numbers are up across the board and when Kyrie comes back, Cleveland should continue to utilize Love in the same way they are right now. He didn't play in the fourth quarter last night, but I wouldn't read too much into it.
The power forward matchup between Love and Thaddeus Young should be fun. Love is one of the league's best rebounders, and the same can be said for Thad. Young is improving on the glass and helps the Nets in practically every facet of the game. The Nets can't really afford to double team anybody tonight, so Young will be the one responsible for preventing Love from getting great position in the post. Young's season high in minutes is 39 and while you want to avoid going to the struggling bench if you can, the back-to-back complicates things some for Lionel Hollins.
If you think back to the rumor mill from the summer, you'd remember that the Cavs were rumored to be looking to acquire Joe Johnson. Nothing came of it and Johnson remained in Brooklyn. Considering that Johnson is having the worst season of his career, Dan Gilbert (and his pocketbook) must be feeling thankful.
Player to watch: Tristan Thompson
The past year has been the best of Thompson's career. He emerged as LeBron's only help after Kyrie got hurt in the Finals and most importantly, declined the Cavs' four year, $52 million extension before the start of last season. He was looking for $94 million, but still hit it big and signed a five year, $82 million contract after a lengthy stalemate with Cavs management that lasted the entire preseason.
TT had been starting at Center, but with Mozgov back, he's back to coming off the bench. Thompson isn't a big that you can consistently throw the ball to in the low post and expect to get buckets, so he's best utilized in the pick-and-roll. Thompson gets close to a point and a half per possession as the roll man, one of the best marks in the league. Brooklyn has been one of the worst at defending the P&R, so it might be a long night for Hollins' guys.
Thompson called out his fellow big men for playing soft against the Raptors, so look for him to battle Brook Lopez on the interior. Opponents are shooting 47 percent at the rim when Thompson is defending, which is pretty solid. Lopez is shooting 51 percent in the post, and look for Brooklyn to feed him consistently with the Cavs short in the frontcourt. Lopez will have to deal with Andre Drummond on Sunday night, so it would be great for him if he had a great game before that matchup.
From the Vault
There's been a lot of discussion this year about Stephen Curry being the best player in the league, and Steph has a great case to make for that title. If you're looking for when LeBron officially became the best player in the league, start here.
More reading: Fear The Sword
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Cleveland Cavaliers Game Notes - Cleveland Cavaliers
- Nets-Cavaliers Preview - Taylor Bechtold - STATS LLC
- Nets troubed by three-pointers - Andy Vasquez - The Record
- Joe Johnson’s shifted role hiding reason Nets need him - Fred Kerber - New York Post
- It's not easy coming to work with 3-12 record, says Nets' Joe Johnson - Colin Stephenson - Newsday
- Preview: Nets vs. Cavs - Cory Wright - Brooklyn Nets
- Cleveland Cavaliers rally in the fourth quarter to beat Charlotte Hornets, 95-90 - Chris Fedor - Cleveland Plain-Dealer
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets: preview of Game 17 - Chris Haynes - Cleveland Plain-Dealer