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And we’re back! Nets host Trail Blazers at Barclays

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Welcome back! Missed you! I’m sure everyone had a great time watching the various members of the Brooklyn Nets partake in the All-Star Weekend festivities. Whether it was Rodions Kurucs and Jarrett Allen in the Rising Stars Challenge, Joe Harris WINNING the Three Point Competition, or D’Angelo Russell draining three’s in the All-Star game, there was a little something for everyone.

It’s time to get back to actual basketball —where wins and losses count— and a second half that will prove to be vitally important for the Nets as they look to solidify their position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Just 23 games remain, and the Nets still hold the six seed heading into the second half. They’ll begin their stretch run at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, who we haven’t seen yet this season and I have plenty of thoughts on. The Blazers are fourth in the West with a 34-23 record and are not a team to be taken lightly. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30pm, ET.

As we wrote Wednesday, Nets ratings on YES Network are up 12 percent so far. Also, YES and its announcers were nominated for 33 New York Emmy’s, including Ian Eagle and Ryan Ruocco.

So it’s a good night to honor Eagle, who will be celebrated for his 25 years as a Nets announcer.

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie (thumb) is out. Jared Dudley was cleared Wednesday and went through a full practice. Dzanan Musa is healthy but on assignment to Long Island, who also returns to action Thursday. Everyone else should be good to go.

The Trail Blazers are healthy but there’s late word that Damian Lillard is questionable! Also on hand and healthy is Enes Kanter who joined the Blazers after being bought out by the Knicks.

The Game

There’s something almost romantic about the way the Trail Blazers take on the Western Conference. Ever since CJ McCollum broke out in 2015, it’s been him and Damian Lillard teaming up to take on the powerhouses of the West. They’re like gunslingers; an unlikely duo that need each other’s best selves in order to compete. They’re like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and every year there they are in the playoff half of the Western Conference standings, with a thin roster in a small market. I love it.

Lillard is having himself another impeccable season. The dude came into the league scoring and just has not stopped since, averaging a career 23.5 points per game with that number being all the way up at 26.3 this season. He’s probably the second best guard in the league at sprinting down into the post and getting to the rim while putting immense pressure on the defense. (Russell Westbrook is the best at this, for the record.) Dame takes 6.7 free throws per game which is down from his career-high 7.4 last year but is still an impressive number.

Dame’s running mate, CJ McCollum, is a lanky shooting guard who plays and looks bigger than his 6’3 listing might lead you to expect. He’s putting up 21 points per game on 45/36/83 shooting. He’s dangerous, and is a pretty great example of what talent and good player development can mean to an organization. C.J. was something of a non-factor his first two years in the league and blossomed into an indispensable part of this team. Sounds familiar.

This game will feature two of the contestants from the Three Point Competition, one obviously being Joe Harris and the other being Seth Curry. Joe, shooting 47% from three and 100% in our hearts, will look to continue his streak of basically never missing. Love that. Seth on the other hand did not win the Three Point Competition but he is, however, pretty good! I’ve long been a Seth Curry supporter and in 2016-17, his last healthy season, he shot 42 percent from three and scored 12.8 points per game and was generally a positive offensive impact player for the Mavericks. Overlooked, but solid. The Blazers made a smart bet and picked him up this season, and he’s rewarded them with 46percent shooting from downtown. Can’t go wrong with a Curry.

The Nets looked tired heading into the break, so hopefully the week off has rejuvenated some of the more overextended players, Shabazz Napier being one of them. It isn’t so much that sixth man minutes are too much for Napier, the former Blazer, but more so that it seemed like being thrust into the role all of a sudden was a lot, which is understandable and to be expected. He’s been performing admirably, but his shooting percentages of 36% from the floor and 31% from deep both need to and should be expected to get bumped up.

Portland is very good at rebounding, which is odd because they aren’t a particularly large or long team by any means. They do a very good at team rebounding, with 10 players averaging over 2.9 rebounds per game, but only two over 7 and one of those over 10.

The Nets are also not particularly large or long, but do employ Ed Davis, another former Blazer, who swallows basketballs whole for breakfast. The Nets are 10th in rebounds per game and the Blazers are 3rd. An Ed Davis revenge game would look like what? 10 points 20 rebounds and a couple blocks? Sign me all the way up.

Davis has called the two games against Portland “must wins.” One reason of course is the unceremonious way he was dumped. Blazers GM Neil Olshey told him to take the Nets $4.4 million offer. That rankled. But he also sees the Nets playoff push as a fitting end to his first season in Brooklyn. And they need wins.

“When I signed here in July, I didn’t think this was a playoff team, honestly,” Davis said of the Nets. “But when I got here and started to see players and how good guys were — and see coach, his philosophies and his schemes — my mindset changed.”

It will be exciting to see what D’Angelo Russell can do in the second half of the season. Now that he’s been introduced on the national stage as an All-Star and someone who can potentially put a team on his back for an extended period of time. He’s more of Super Saiyan DLo.. Reminder: Our Franchise Point Guard is averaging 24.4 points and 7.6 assists per game in 2019. That’s Hot, as cultural icon and my personal favorite celebrity influencer Paris Hilton would say.

Player To Watch

According to Basketball Reference, Jusuf Nurkic’ nicknames are “The Bosnian Beast” and “The Bosnian Bear” and honestly, that checks out. Nurkic is 7 feet tall, 275 pounds and he is a monster. He grabs 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and sets some hard, solid screens for his two guards Dame and CJ. The main drawback is that he fouls a ton which partly contributes to the fact that he only plays 27.3 minutes per game. Hopefully, the Nets will be able to get him in foul trouble early before he can have too much impact on the game. He’s going to be scary at times.

From The Vault

Here’s a video of a different time a boring but beloved white dude won the three point contest. History repeats itself. Joe Harris is better anyway.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Blazers’ Edge, our sister site on SB Nation.