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Nets open four-game West Coast trip in L.A.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

You might have missed this, but after a lackluster (and we’re being kind) win over the Bulls, your Brooklyn Nets have won three of the last four and are led by a player who, as Pooch notes, had a pretty good week even if someone else won the conference Player of the Week...

So with Jacque Vaughn’s first game out of the way and the memory of last week’s sturm and drung (slowly) fading, the Nets are in California with games against all four of the state’s NBA teams. In order, they will face the Lakers, Warriors, Clippers and Kings between now and Sunday.

First up is the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night at Staples Center. L.A. has to be considered the favorite to win it all after beating the Bucks and the Clippers since Friday.

The game will be among the first played where only players, coaches and essential personnel will be allowed in team locker rooms. Media access will be limited to interviews an arms’ lengthy away from players and outside the locker room.

Where to follow the game

The Nets will be on YES. You can also listen to the game at WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 10:30 PM, Eastern Daylight Time (in case you forgot to set your clocks ahead.)

Injuries

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are out. So is Garrett Temple (ankle) who will miss his fourth game. Nicolas Claxton is back with Brooklyn after averaging 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent from three. Dzanan Musa remains with Long Island.

LeBron James (sore left groin) said Tuesday afternoon that the plan is for him to play. Previously, he had been listed as questionable. Alex Caruso (sore right hamstring) and Anthony Davis (sore left elbow) are being listed as probable. No word on whether DIon Waiters will be available. Frank Vogel said it would be a “few games” before he gets into a game. He signed with L.A. on Friday, but didn’t play in either of their big weekend wins.

The game

The Lakers and Nets are on opposite sides of the playoff picture. L.A. is now six and a half games (seven in the loss column) ahead of the Clippers, a comfortable lead with 20 games left. And they are only four games behind the Bucks for the league’s best record. L.A. would like to close that gap so they would have home court advantage if they and the Bucks meet in the Finals.

Brooklyn is now six full games ahead of the ninth place Wizards who are fading (3-7 in their last 10) and a half game ahead of the Magic as the two teams vy for the seventh seed and the right to likely face the Raptors who are three games ahead of the Celtics who keep losing despite the hype.

A good showing on the road —let’s say 2-2— and the Nets would come close to making the playoffs for the second straight year. That would appear to be the goal.

One has to assume that the starting lineup for the rest of the way will include DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler rather than Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince. That worked out in some fashion against the Bulls.

Check out the sidelines during the game. There are, count ‘em, two of Billy Reinhardt’s head coaching candidates: long-shot Jason Kidd and sleeper Phil Handy, both Laker assistants. Kidd needs no introduction either as a Nets icon or as a coach. Handy is an interesting possibility.

Handy has two rings, one each with the Cavs and Raptors and could be looking at a third this season. He’s also been in the NBA Finals five straight years and has a good relationship with not just the Nets two superstars but Kawhi Leonard and LeBron.

As Billy wrote in handicapping (pun intended) coaching candidates...

He’s well respected around the league as a skills trainer and for what he brings as a coach — KD and Kyrie both follow him on Instagram. While in Cleveland, Handy was assigned to be Irving’s personal coach, going through workouts with him before each game. Many reports suggest that Handy was the coach Irving was closest with while in Cleveland — not Lue.

In Game One back on January 20, the Lakers beat the Nets with LeBron posting a triple double and Kyrie Irving leading the Nets with 20 points and Caris LeVert contributing 16.

Player to Watch:

Even with LeBron playing, we will turn our blurry late night eyes toward Anthony Davis, who’s averaging 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 assists in 54 games.

As Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll, our Lakers sister site on SB Nation, writes Monday, Davis without LeBron has been quite effective...

One of the things the Lakers have figured out is how to take advantage of Anthony Davis more effectively. Despite what one might assume based on the eye test or narratives, Davis has actually scored more (and more efficiently) per 36 minutes with James off of the floor all year, according to NBA.com. But Davis has been even better lately, scoring nearly 10 more points per 36 minutes with James off the floor than he does with James on, while shooting 11.6% better from the field.

That seems to have come in part from Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff figuring out more ways to get Davis the ball in space, whether it’s having him take more threes so that defenses have to come out to guard him on the perimeter — where he can use his quickness to get by them on drives or cuts — or by playing Markieff Morris alongside Davis instead of a traditional big,

Davis should pose a big issue for Jordan (or whoever guards him). He’s quick and strong and can even on occasion go outside where he’s hitting just below a third of his shots. And do not underestimate Davis’ drive. If he walks away with a championship ring this season, he will become the first player in hoops history to complete the Quadruple Crown ... an NCAA title, Olympic and FIBA World Cup golds and an NBA ring. That’s plenty of motivation.

From the Vault

Speaking of Handy, here’s what he told the L.A. Times the other day about LeBron James post All-Star Break, the hyper competitive LeBron.

“People forget what he gets like after the All-Star break; he’s a different guy, He’s preparing himself for that — that’s what you saw today and Milwaukee, you see him saying ‘Let me get myself and help my team in the right frame of mind.’ So for him diving on the floor for loose balls and taking the challenge defensively, that’s what you see.”

If you’re looking for a good example, here’s Game 4 of the second round of the 2014 playoffs. He was still with the Heat and Paul Pierce volunteered to guard him. LeBron went into hyper drive.

More reading: Silver Screen and Roll.