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The Cavs host the Nets before Christmas

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2016 NBA Finals - Game Seven Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If games were 24 minutes long, things would be very different for the Nets. Unfortunately for them, they’re 48 minutes (sometimes more) long. Brooklyn played a great 24 minutes against the Golden State Warriors last night, but fell apart once again in the third quarter and lost by 16 points. They’ve lost their last four games.

The opponent this evening will be the defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. After overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Warriors (just preparing you for Sunday), the Cavs have kept the good times rolling and are atop the Eastern Conference. They played a home-and-home set with the Bucks this week and won both games. They've won three straight and eight out of their last nine. After this, they play host to the Warriors on Sunday afternoon.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

Isaiah Whitehead figures to miss another game with his foot injury.

JR Smith tore his right thumb and will be undergoing surgery to fix it. He is expected to be out for an extended period of time. Kevin Love hasn’t played this week due to soreness in his right knee. No word on his availability tonight.

The game

Kyrie Irving has been having another great year, but apparently he could be doing even more. Ben Alamar of ESPN wrote an interesting piece, and this part stood out to me:

The first clue here is that Irving's usage rate has remained constant throughout his career at approximately 28 percent -- dipping only slightly to 26 percent during his first season with James. James' presence has not changed the volume of Irving's impact on the Cavs offense. It has, however, altered what that impact looks like. Irving is taking more 3-point shots (31 percent of his attempts now, versus 26 percent pre-James), but has not become a better 3-point shooter with James as a teammate. Irving shot a career-low 32 percent from 3 last season, but has become a marginally more efficient scorer in large part due to better shot selection.

Irving will get a chance to go to work against Jeremy Lin. Lin played 32 minutes last night, and it’s the first time he’s gone over the 30 minute plateau since late October. With this being the second night of a back-to-back, who knows how long he plays. Spencer Dinwiddie should see a lot of playing time tonight.

Brook Lopez had a sensational first half, but was a negative in the second half. He only scored five points and committed three turnovers in the final 24 minutes. Oh, and...

Gotta charge it to the game. But to get back to business, the Nets need Lopez to be better in second halves of games. Whether it’s his teammates working to get him the ball earlier in the shot clock or Lopez making quicker adjustments to double teams when he does get the ball, the Nets need more from their best player.

With the injuries, the Cavs are having to rely more on their role players. Offseason acquisition Mike Dunleavy hasn’t paid off yet, but he has been someone that has been able to stretch the floor with his three point shooting throughout his career. Channing Frye lost both of his parents this year, but he’s played through it and is having the best season of his career. And with Jr out, DeAndre Liggins will take his place in the starting lineup. Making it through the regular season after you’ve won the title can be a bit tedious, but it’s an opportunity for the secondary players to chip and carve out roles for themselves when the real season begins.

Player to watch: LeBron James

Bron turns 32 next week, and he’s still the league’s best player. Sure he’s averaging his usual 25 points a game, but most importantly, he’s shooting 38 percent from three point range. It’s the highest it’s been since he’s returned to Cleveland and a dramatic improvement from the 30.9 percent he shot from deep last year. When you play with Bron, he will always find you good looks, and the guys on the second unit have feasted on opponents playing next to him. There is one drawback though. Thanks to the injuries, Bron is third in minutes per game, averaging a little over 37 a night. Friend of the site John Schumann noted that Bron is second in minutes to Zach Lavine in December, who played a double overtime game. As the Cavs get healthier, he won’t have to play as many minutes this early in the year.

Bojan Bogdanovic drew the initial assignment on Kevin Durant last night and figures to get Bron to start off tonight. Bojan had a decent game on offense, scoring 12 points and making two three pointers in 25 minutes of playing time. He split time with Rondae Hollis Jefferson, but to be honest, RHJ might be better suited back in the starting lineup. Sean Kilpatrick has gone cold recently and had another ehhh game last night. The Nets defense is a tire fire, and having RHJ out there for longer stretches, especially with the first unit, could salvage things on that end.

From the Vault

We’re making two trips today. First up, get in the Christmas spirit with James Brown.

And to close out, relive the middle game in the greatest individual three game run in league history.

More reading: Fear the Sword.