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Back in Sixth, Nets take on Trail Blazers in Portland

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets officially eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs on Friday night, and also started a mini-winning streak of two straight games. That might sound insignificant, but up to that point the Nets were 0-3 on this current road trip. 2-3 sounds a lot better, don’t you think? That six seed is still very much in play, but the Nets are back there Sunday night after the Pistons lost their second straight to the Warriors. Brooklyn at 38-36 has a half game advantage over Detroit who’s 37-36.

in order to secure it long-term, the Nets are really going to need to bring their A-game down the stretch. The four-seed, 45-27 Portland Trail Blazers will be their opponents on Monday night and they are literally never an easy win, even if Sean Marks has poached like half of their role players over the last couple of years. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

YES, WFAN, and NBA TV(!) at 10pm, ET

Injuries

Allen Crabbe (knee) is out. Everyone else is healthy. Dzanan Musa remains with the Long Island Nets who begin their playoff run on March 29.

CJ McCollum (knee) is out.

The Game

The Blazers have won three straight since CJ McCollum went down with a knee injury, so if you thought that could maybe be an advantage, it seems as if it is, in fact, not. I mean maybe this will be the game that Damian Lillard, who’s 30.3 points and 12 assists in his counterparts absence, goes cold. That would be nice. CJ obviously provides a ton of offense for them, and starting in his place has been Jake Layman, who has averaged 5 points per game and also looks like every kid who played JV basketball at your high school. Layman actually isn’t bad, and he’s shooting 51/33/70 on the season, but filling in for a star guard like McCollum is a tall order.

The other All Star point guard in this game is obviously D’Angelo Russell, who has been averaging 32.3 points and 11.7 assists in his last three games. It’s a battle of the hot streaks. DLo has been having something of a moment, with that Kings comeback being followed up with eliminating his former team, who happen to employ LeBron James now, from the playoffs. That must have been a pretty fun week for the young guard. Going up against Lillard on the last game of the road trip will be a solid challenge to see if he can keep up this kind of performance a little while longer. He’s been absolutely lights out, and has even grabbed 2.7 steals per game over his last three in an improved defensive effort.

The last time we saw the Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter destroyed the Nets frontline, combining for 46 points and 21 rebounds. If Enes Kanter could play every game against the Nets he’d be a hall of famer. My guy is averaging 21.2 points and 12 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game during his four matchups with Brooklyn this season. A backup center should not scare me this much. And to make it worse, the Bosnian Beast starts in front of him. Both are bona fide Net Killers and if they can’t be neutralized there’s a good chance Brooklyn will be going home with an L in this one. I mean, the Nets allowed JaVale McGee to put up 33 and 20 against them, gotta be better than that.

Against the Lakers, Joe Harris put up his first 20-point game since February 13th, right before his legendary performance in the three point contest. There’s a famous baseball theory that after participating in the Home Run Derby, players have a hard time hitting in the second half. This doesn’t really apply to Joe and his threes, he’s been hitting 46.9% since the break, but it was nice seeing him get some extra looks and put up a big number in LA. He shot 6/8 from three and if the Nets want to beat Portland they’re going to need to get some hot shooting not only from Joe, but probably guys like DeMarre Carroll and Rodions Kurucs as well.

The Nets still rank first in the NBA in drives per game, and if there were a way to neutralize Nurkic and Kanter it might be with drawing fouls. Brooklyn ranks 5th in the league in free throws attempted, so between Spencer Dinwiddie, DeMarre Carroll, Caris LeVert, and D’Angelo Russell who seems to have found new life as a downhill point guard, there should be enough fouls to go around to potentially get some bench minutes out of Meyers Leonard and Zack Collins who are decidedly less scary. Nurkic is averaging 3.5 fouls per game and Kanter is averaging 2.3, but on a per 36 rate they’re at 4.6 and 4.5 respectively. That’s a weak spot the Nets need to exploit.

Player to Watch

Al-Farouq Aminu does a little bit of everything, he’s kind of like Portlands version of DeMarre Carroll. In 28 minutes per game, he’s scoring 9.4 points, grabbing 7.4 rebounds, and shooting 44/36/85. He can guard most players in the NBA due to his size and mobility, and at about $7 million a year over the last 4 seasons, he’s been a steal for the Blazers. Every good team needs guys like him to do the little things that other guys either won’t or can’t. Also, this section of the preview has often featured players who are free agents after this season in my attempt to chronicle guys we could potentially see in Nets uniforms at some point in the future, and Aminu is no exception. There’s no doubt that if he were to just switch locker rooms for this game he could fit right into the Nets power forward slot and make an immediate impact, he’s just that kind of player. We also all know how much Sean Marks loves his Trail Blazers. Watch out for him in this one and also watch out for him this summer. Someone’s gotta get paid with all that cap space.

From The Vault

It’s Sunday!! Song time. Hope everyone’s week went well, and hope the next one is better. For my Northeastern friends, it’s going to be in the 60’s by the end of the week. Amazing. Cannot wait for Spring to really get going.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, had on over to Blazer’s Edge, our sister site on SB Nation (and historically the most popular NBA site on SB Nation.)