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Celtics, with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart out, arrive in Brooklyn

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Hello! Welcome back everyone! I hope we all took a little time to recover from that Raptors loss. There seemed to be a genuine wave of disappointment across the Nets Universe about the “L” to Toronto and I am here to assure you all that it’s ok to lose to one of the best teams in the league while seemingly half the rotation is out with injuries. Would it be more fun to win? Obviously, but it’s a long season. The Nets, and more importantly we, will survive.

Brooklyn is back home for this next one, where they’ll face the current fifth seed in the East, the Boston Celtics. They have lost two straight and just cannot seem to get it going for the long stretches of games. They need to play up to the level of talent on their roster. So far, It’s been two steps forward one step back for this team, from the very beginning. The Nets will try to take advantage especially after Boston’s disappointing loss to Orlando on Saturday.

The Celtics won’t be at full strength. Kyrie Irving is out with right quad contusion and Marcus Smart is out due to illness. Lucky us. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30 pm, ET.

Injuries

I could rap these from memory at this point. Caris LeVert (foot) Allen Crabbe (knee) Dzanan Musa (shoulder) Jared Dudley (hamstring) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor) are all hurt. But wait, there’s news. RHJ is “questionable” which is one step above “out” and one below “probable.” What it likely means is that he’s a game time decision.

We should start seeing some of others return soon, hopefully within the next week or so. No word on the big one, LeVert’s return. He’s been out two months as of this weekend. The Nets are 15-15 without him!

For Boston, in addition to Irving and Smart, Jabari Bird (scandal) and Aron Baynes (metacarpal fracture) are out.

The Game

It would be great to live in a world where both D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie could be on extended hot streaks at the same time but alas, we live in this version of the universe where that seems to be either Impossible or Not Yet Possible. Let’s hope it’s the latter. D’Angelo, over his last seven, is up to 22.6 points and 6.9 assists and shooting almost 50% from the field. Spencer, over his last seven, is scoring 12.4 points while shooting under 40% from the field.

These are basically the two cogs of Kenny Atkinson’s offense, especially with LeVert out, with Russell leading the starters and Dinwiddie leading the second unit. One of them is almost always on the floor, and they’re each averaging over 28 minutes per game this season. The Celtics, who employ Marcus Smart and Al Horford and play pretty good guard defense, are not the ideal team for Dinwiddie to break out against which actually makes me a little hopeful. Dinwiddie loves a challenge, and putting up a big scoring numbers against Kyrie Irving and the Celtics actually feels very On-Brand for him.

The Celtics have the second best +/- in the league at 6.4 and are Top 10 in Assists, Turnovers, Three Point Percentage, Three Pointers Made, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Net Rating, and Steals. Why can’t they get it together? Who’s to say, but it can’t help to have so many individuals with “narratives” surrounding them and needing both the ball and some ego boosting.

There’s plenty of talk about Kevin Durant and his impending free agency, but Kyrie is also going to hit the market this summer and everyone in that locker room knows it. Gordon Hayward is still working his way back to full health, Jayson Tatum doesn’t look as explosive or exciting as he did in his rookie campaign, Jaylen Brown is still overshadowed by Tatum, Terry Rozier isn’t getting the minutes he probably thinks he deserves, Marcus Smart is Marcus Smart. There’s a lot going on with this team, is what I’m saying. It isn’t always about the numbers.

As a comparison, the Nets don’t have half as many “narratives” and are less talented but they’re playing better than anyone expected them to this season, especially since the losing streak. It helps when basketball is the main, and really only, focus.

This doesn’t make the Celtics an easy opponent by any means, as we saw last week when Brooklyn lost to Boston 116-95. Granted, they were coming off of a back-to-back, but the Celtics won handily. Rodions Kurucs put up 24 points in an impressive performance and against teams like the Celtics it feels like his crazy motor and energy can sometimes disrupt established defensive systems by being unpredictable. The Celtics probably didn’t game plan for Rodi taking eight threes and making five.

This will be the second of three January matchups between these two teams, and a win would force a split setting up a rubber match on the 28th. That would be fun. The Nets are 5-4 in Division games this year after going 1-15 last year. Divisions don’t really matter for too much in the NBA, but there is a certain pride factor in beating the teams you’re guaranteed to see a bunch of times in a season.

A win against Boston and Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens who have built their foundation upon the crushed hopes and dreams of Nets fans would be a lot of fun.

Player (NOT) To Watch

Kyrie Irving —if he plays— is one of the best point guards in the league and he also seems genuinely frustrated with how his team is playing. He had a lot to say about it following the loss to the Magic, and I actually am not sure why there isn’t more of a media narrative about his free agency decision.

Yeah, he’s said he plans to stary but at this point it feels more likely that he leaves the Celtics than Durant leaves the Warriors. In a season where he’s coming back from an injury, his production has barely slipped and if anything, improved in certain areas.

His assists, rebounds, and steals have all gotten a little bump while no other aspect of his game had seen any sort of significant reduction other than his shot attempts which are down a tick this season, leading to a lower scoring total of 22.7 per game. Is his All-Star mentality potentially having negative effects on this Celtics roster? Sure, probably a little bit. But he isn’t Jimmy Butler-ing his way out of town either. It’ll be interesting to see how his relationship with Boston plays out over the next few months, but Monday night, he’s a non-factor in Brooklyn.

From The Vault

Speaking of Kyrie, here is one of my all time favorite NBA player interviews.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, you can go to the Celtics Blog, our sister site on SB Nation.