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Anthony Davis and Pelicans fly into Brooklyn

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Happy New Years everyone! Hope you all had wonderful holiday season and are feeling nice and refreshed and ready to take on 2019 and the rest of this basketball season.

This year is going to be a big one for the Nets. We’re going to see if they can sneak into the playoffs. They’re going to have their own draft pick. Sean Marks & Co. are going to try their best to land a big star in free agency, and who knows what else. Maybe a big trade? Maybe emergence of another young guy? We’ll see! It’s going to be a lot of fun and for the first time in a long time, the future in Brooklyn is bright.

The Nets will start off the new year at home Wednesday night against the Pelicans, who are 17-21 (same record as the Nets) and are currently 14th in a brutal Western Conference. They are led, obviously, by Anthony Davis whose future has become one of the hottest topics in the league in recent weeks as rumors fly, aided by gusts emanating from Los Angeles. Do they trade him? Does he take the money and sign an extension? How’s he going to look in Laker Gold? Only time will tell, but for now, he’s a Pelican and will be at the Barclays on Wednesday night (stomach flu permitting). Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30 pm, ET

Injuries

Caris LeVert (foot) Allen Crabbe (knee) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor) and Dzanan Musa (shoulder) are all hurt. Treveon Graham (hamstring) has been assigned to the G-League so we’ll probably see him in action soon enough. Just don’t expect any changes for Wednesday’s game.

Anthony Davis missed Monday’s game with what appeared to be the stomach flu but it’s likely he’s back for this one. Nikola Mirotic has been dealing with an ankle injury but he’s nearing a return, and Elfrid Payton recently returned to action after missing some time with a finger injury.

The Game

These two teams are similar in record and different in composition. The Pelicans rely heavily on their rotation of big men, headlined by Anthony Davis and supported by Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. Cheick Diallo and Jahlil Okafor are in there too, but they’re side dishes to the main course of the big three. In their first matchup of the season, the Nets were able to hold Davis, Mirotic, and Randle to just 42 combined points compared to their combined season average of 65. There’s going to have to be another strong team effort if the Nets want to replicate those numbers, and remember, they lost that game anyway even if it was a heartbreaker.

Brooklyn will be without their starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in this one which is bad for their on-court production but is also just a bummer. During the eight-game win streak he averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds and even shot 45 percent from three on 11 attempts! He has an undeniably positive impact on the game and plays harder than just about anyone on the team. His presence will be missed in this one, especially when it’s time to try and close out on Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic three’s.

By the end of the most recent stretch of games (the home and home with Charlotte followed by the brutal early back-to-back against Milwaukee) the Nets looked exhausted. Letting guys like Shabazz Napier and Kenneth Faried play big minutes and take a bunch of shots was one of those weird, necessary, fun moments of the NBA season where you just need to sit a bunch of guys for some rest. What wasn’t entirely expected was the recent sneaky slew of injuries the Nets now have to deal with. Someone like Shabazz Napier, who scored 32 points against the Bucks, probably earned himself some more minutes in this now weakened rotation.

Faried and Theo Pinson also played well, and it wouldn’t shock me to see either of them get a little bit of run if the situation called for it. It also wouldn’t shock me if Pinson plays his next 15 games in the G-League and Faried doesn’t see the court until February. We’ll see what happens. More likely: DeMarre Carroll gets big minutes until RHJ comes back.

Winning this one would bring the Nets record to 7-1 in their last eight home games, and also snap a three-game losing streak to New Orleans. The Pelicans are unsurprisingly a great rebounding team, fourth in the league at 51.7 percent Rebound Percentage, and play at one of the fastest paces at 103.33 which outruns the Nets 99.47. Kenny Atkinson’s team ranked sixth in pace last season and ranks 22nd this season, but that’s due more to the league getting faster than the Nets slowing down. The Nets are playing at a pace that is 0.27 slower than last season, which is insignificant. They’re playing the same game. That, I think, brings us back to the idea of continuity. The Nets system hasn’t changed, and most of these players are now in their second or even third years of playing in it, which can at least partially account for some of their success this season.

Jrue Holiday is the forgotten threat of this New Orleans team. Putting up 20.9 points per game to go along with 8.7 assists which is good for fourth in the league. He runs a significant amount of the Pelicans’ offense even is he isn’t technically their “point guard”. He’s also 16th in the league in steals per game with 1.6 which is unsurprising. He’s a great individual defender and seems much more intimidating on the court than his 6’4, 205 pound frame might suggest on paper. D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie might be forced to pick up a couple more dribbles than their used to.

Speaking of DLo, he sat against the Bucks on Saturday so by the time the game on Wednesday begins he will essentially have had five days of rest which is a nice little break. He hadn’t missed a game all season before that. I’m all for giving guys breaks like that when it’s possible, and the hope is obviously that DLo comes out well rested and ready to play at a high level for an extended period of time. It’ll be great if that happens.

Player To Watch

E’Twaun Moore is the kind of player that just hits shots day in and day out. You look up and all of a sudden he’s got 17 points on 3-of-5 from three and a bunch of easy layups. Being the best wing on a team with Davis, Mirotic, Randle, and Holiday is sort of a cushy job in a lot of ways. Either Holiday or Davis will take the toughest defensive assignment and most of the other team’s attention will be paid to any combination of those guys depending on the night. All Moore has to do is play within the system and find some spots to hit some shots. In his three years in New Orleans, he’s shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. He executes in one of the best jobs in the league.

From The Vault

I really hope everyone has a wonderful 2019. Life is short, go get the things you want. You deserve it.

Here’s a fun song because I want everyone starting off this year on the right foot.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, take a look at The Bird Writes, our Pelicans sister site on SB Nation.