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Nets begin the second half and road trip in Denver

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BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2017 Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Welcome back! After a nice week off due to the All Star Break, the Brooklyn Nets return to action. When we last saw them, they lost a close game against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was their 14th straight overall and 16th straight at home. Getting away from home is always a good thing, but the Nets will be on the road from now until early March.

Welcoming the Nets back will be the Denver Nuggets. The bottom half of the Western Conference just became even more interesting thanks to the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, but the Nuggets are still in prime position to capture the eighth seed. They played last night and got beat up by the Kings in Sacramento.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 9 PM.

Injuries

Jeremy Lin is available. So are the team’s newest acquisitions: Andrew Nicholson and K.J. McDaniels. Quincy Acy (ankle) remains out. It’s Game 56 and the Nets haven’t had one game where all 15 players have been healthy.

Kenneth Faried returned from an ankle injury last night.

The game

The Nets won the first game in December.

This is the start of the annual circus road trip, but our pals Dawn and Johnson won’t be taking the trip with them this season. All the best to Johnson.

The Nets are looking a lot different. They traded Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton (who was later waived) and a first round pick. They also acquired KJ McDaniels from the Houston Rockets for cash considerations. Denver didn’t do much at the trade deadline except acquiring Roy “He’s Still in the League” Hibbert, but they did pick up Mason Plumlee from Portland in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic a few weeks ago.

With Bogdanovic gone, that opens things up for Caris Levert and Joe Harris. Levert has struggled some as of late, but he’s been having a productive season. With the Nets heading to Golden State tomorrow night, there’s a good chance Levert sits one of these two games out. The Nets have to manage him closely and avoiding back-to-backs seems like a good strategy. As for Harris, he should get some starts at the small forward spot as his 38.7 percent shooting from deep is second among the team’s players in the rotation. They’ll have their hands full with the duo of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

Jeremy Lin is back. The Nets point guard had missed the previous 26 games due to a variety of hamstring injuries. While Lin being out, the Nets had to rely on the duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Whitehead. I wouldn’t expect Lin to play a heavy amount of minutes tonight as this is his first day back (as well as playing in the altitude), so Whitehead and Dinwiddie will get their fair share of playing time. For Denver, Jameer Nelson is the starter at point guard, and that doesn’t bode well for Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay hasn’t played since February 4th due to injuries, but was a DNP-CD last night. Although coming off the bench isn’t a good look, all isn’t lost. As Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs points out:

This is merely an opportunity for Mudiay to finally learn at a slower pace than what he has had to deal with to start his career. It’s been said once, and will continue to be said until Mudiay isn’t on the team - he was asked to be a starting point guard in the NBA after a dozen games in China as his only professional experience at the age of 19.

Developing young players is tricky as hell.

Look for there to be a ton of offense tonight. These are two of the three worst defenses in the league this year in terms of points per 100 possessions and they both force the fewest amount of turnovers in the league as well. When you combine bad defenses, tons of three point attempts, and a fast pace, you’ve got yourself the recipe for a shootout.

Player to watch: Nikola Jokic

Last night aside, Jokic has been sensational for Denver this year. He’s averaging 16 points, nine rebounds, and four assists a night on a very impressive 57.7 percent from the field. The Joker has been on various highlight reels thanks to his passing and is quickly developing into a franchise player for Mike Malone and the Nuggets. He still has room to grow on defense, but he just turned 22 and is only getting better from here. When you’re done here, read Lee Jenkins’ wonderful profile of Jokic at Sports Illustrated.

We do this dance every year, and every year, Brook Lopez survives a tidal wave of trade rumors. This time, there were rumors of him heading to Indiana, but nothing came of it. We’ll finally get a chance to see the Brook-Lin duo on the court together. That pairing will be instrumental to the Nets going forward and the more we see them, the more they’ll get comfortable with each other and their intricacies.

From the Vault

In a few years, Chauncey Billups will be up for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I like Mr. Big Shot’s chances.

More reading: Denver Stiffs