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Nets test themselves against Spurs in Battle of Six Seeds

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets split their most recent back-to-back in reverse fashion, losing to Boston on the first night and beating Chicago on the second. Brooklyn is now 28-24, matching their win total from last season, and are still comfortably sixth seed. The bounce back win against the Bulls was cool because it felt like the kind of thing good teams does after a loss. And I mean like, actually good teams. Teams that win over long periods of time and develop players in a system built on trust and hard work.

Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, who happen to be the Nets’ next opponents.

The Spurs are 30-22, sixth seed in the West, and are figuring out how to win with a roster unlike any they’ve had over the past 20+ years. It’s fascinating and impressive and unsurprising. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 8:30 pm, ET since it’s an away game in Texas, which is far away.

Injuries

Caris LeVert (foot) Allen Crabbe (knee) Spencer Dinwiddie (finger) and Jared Dudley (hamstring) are out. Dzanan Musa is back, doing a rehab tour with Long Island. He played 24 minutes, scored 20 points, handed out eight assists, grabbed four rebounds and hit 9-of-9 from the line.

DeMar DeRozan (knee) missed Tuesday’s game and is day-to-day while Dejounte Murray (knee) is out for the season.

The Game

The Spurs have been the model of consistency and winning basketball in the NBA over the last couple of decades, winning five championships and making the playoffs every season since 1998. So, when two years and six months ago it was announced that the Nets had signed Sean Marks, a member of the Spurs contingency, to be their new GM, I had a pretty good feeling about it.

It worked, by the way. These teams are both the sxith seeds in their respective conferences and although they were built differently and are in very different situations, they’re both surprising the league. San Antonio was forced to trade their best player and transcendent talent Kawhi Leonard prior to the start of this season and while they made the playoffs without him last year, it would’ve been understandable if they took a major step back.

DeMar DeRozan, the mid-range god, has helped keep the Spurs in contention, along with LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and a bunch of other guys who are classic Spurs. Guys like Davis Bertans who, after a couple of years of development under Pop, is shooting 48 percent from three while playing a crisp 20.6 minutes per game. He comes in, he hits his shots, he comes out. He’s Latvian.

The same can be said about guys like Belinelli, Mills, and even old friend Dante Cunningham who, if you watched him in Brooklyn last season, isn’t surprising anyone with his success in the Spurs system.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played well against Chicago, putting up 18 points and 4 assists, and we’re entering the part of the season where he and the Nets are really going to have to figure out what their plan is together going forward. Rondae is a restricted free agent this summer, One on hand, he’s the longest serving Net, a glue guy. On the other hand, the Nets might need all the money they can save, and RHJ could end up being left behind. OR maybe a team pays him a bunch of money. I don’t know.

What I do know is that you don’t have to be able to shoot threes well in order to succeed even in a system like Kenny Atkinson’s, just ask LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan. The two of them are shooting 21 percent and 17 percent from three respectively which is absolutely atrocious. Would the Spurs be better if they could both shoot 35 percent from three? Yes. Would the Spurs be better if the two of them left and never came back? No. There’s a middle ground, and sure both of those guys are capital “G” great at other things on the court, but there’s a way to build an offense that highlights your players strengths and hides the weaknesses.

D’Angelo Russell played well again against the Bulls and at this point I just love pulling up his stats from this month, it’s so much fun. He’s now up to 23.7 points and 7.1 assists with a 48/42/86 shooting percentage slash. Amazing. When long-term player development works out for this team it’s just the absolute best. We all bought in, and we’re seeing huge returns on our investments.

Oh yeah, if the Nets win, it will be their 29th win, the most they’ve had since 2014-15 when they went to the playoffs with a 38-44 record. It would be their 12th win, the most the team has won in January ... ever.

Finally, this grace note: two years ago, the Nets were in the midst of a 1-27 mid-season stretch.

Player To Watch

Bryn Forbes, a 25 year old 6’3 guard who spent some time in the G League before making the Spurs roster for good last season, has turned not only into a starter, but a good one at that. In order to let DeRozan Be DeRozan, the Spurs need their other guards and players in general to spread the floor and that’s exactly what Forbes does. He’s a dangerous shooter, hitting 2.2 threes per game on 42 percent shooting. He scores 12.2 points per game, and is reminiscent of someone like Joe Harris, who the Nets saw as a three-point specialist and then he turned out to be so much more.

Fun Fact

From The Vault

The Spurs do some of the absolute best commercials any athletes have ever done. Up there with the heyday of “This Is Sportscenter”.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Pounding the Rock, our Spurs sister site on SB Nation.