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Nets begin road trip in Cleveland

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone needed that. The Brooklyn Nets had been in a funk for much of February. Even with the All-Star break thrown in, they couldn’t snap out of it. On Monday night, they finally did.

The opponent this evening will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's been an interesting year for the defending Eastern Conference champions as they find themselves third in the Eastern Conference, but haven't played as well as expected. They've won four out of their last six games, but lost their last game on Sunday afternoon at home against the Spurs.

Where to follow the game

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

Injuries

Jahlil Okafor has been dealing with the flu and it’s questionable he returns tonight. As of Tuesday morning, Isaiah Whitehead, owner of the highest scoring game in the G League this season, remains with Long Island as do two-way deals, Milton Doyle and James Webb III.

Only Kevin Love is out for Cleveland.

The game

The Nets won the first game in October while the Cavs took the second one in November.

Here's something to keep an eye on. During Sunday’s game, a Cavs fan allegedly made a racist comment towards San Antonio’s Patty Mills. The team is investigating the incident. There could be news before tonight’s game.

Cleveland is looking a lot different these days. At the deadline, they shipped out Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade. Coming in to Cleveland were: Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and George Hill. Those four have brought a jolt of energy as well as some defense. On the year, the Cavs defensive efficiency is 109.3, 28th in the league. Since the trade deadline, their defensive efficiency is 104, 10th in the league. If they can defend at a competent level and develop some more chemistry come playoff time, they’ll be incredibly tough to get rid of.

In assessing what the Cavs did at the deadline, Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword wrote:

The Cavs took a positive step back towards contention with their deadline moves. While some would argue that the team wasn’t even a true contender even with Irving, losing him was always going to have a devastating effect on the franchise.

They may have fallen backwards into the team they have now, but few organizations would be able to recover from losing their second best player as quickly as Cleveland has. Their veterans are in a position to succeed, their role players have upside, and they have a draft pick that can bring in more help via trade or in the draft itself.

As a staff, label, and a crew, we at NetsDaily are big proponents of people getting dunked on. So naturally...

Allen will face some live bodies at center. When Tristan Thompson is going well, he does a great job of crashing the boards and creating second opportunities for the Cavs. Nance is an explosive finisher at the rim and can keep things going when the Cavs go small.

George Hill will have a good matchup against Spencer Dinwiddie. As it so happens, the Cavs tried to make a move to acquire Dinwiddie, but Brooklyn turned them down. It’s easy to see why Cleveland would want Dinwiddie. He keeps the turnovers to an absolute minimum and when you have a bevy of shooters like they do, you want to maximize as many possessions as humanly possible.

The Pick

Then, of course, there’s the pick, the Nets first round pick that, after the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, sits with the Cavaliers. A Cavs win tonight doesn’t just effect the playoff race, but also the Cleveland hope for a high lottery pick. As of Tuesday morning, the Cavs will go into the lottery with the seventh pick, good for Texas center Mohamed Bamba, reports Tankathon.

Player to watch: LeBron James

We take it for granted sometimes, but damn, this dude is amazing. Since the deadline, Bron has kicked his game up a few (more) notches. In those six games, he’s averaging 27.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.8 assists a game while shooting 53.3. percent from the field. His three-point shot has gone a bit cold recently, but he’s been league average from deep the past couple of years, so look for him to get back on track soon.

One thing to keep a close eye on is how often he gets to the free-throw line. He’s only getting to the line six times, the lowest amount since his rookie season. Bron spoke about that, and came up with this theory as to what’s going on:

“We protect the shooter. That’s what it’s turned into. Chicks dig the long ball and that’s what it’s about.”

Heh.

DeMarre Carroll will get first dibs on guarding LeBron. Like everybody else, Carroll has had issues guarding LeBron over the years. So with that in mind, look for Kenny Atkinson to throw a variety of looks at him. Having Rondae Hollis Jefferson will help immensely as the Nets will have another body to throw at him. Hopefuly for their sake, LeBron doesn’t score 18 straight points again. He’s good for that.

From the Vault

Let’s close the month out right by listening to Bron and KD talk that real.

More reading: Fear the Sword