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Nets host Bucks on Martin Luther King Day

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Kings Marching in Rural Mississippi

Times are a changin’. The latest iteration of the Brooklyn Nets went to work on Saturday evening against the Orlando Magic and came away with the win at Barclays. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Nets are currently on a three game winning streak.

The opponent tonight will be the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are near the top of the East and were able to extend their current winning streak to four games after a close win against the Dallas Mavericks at home on Friday night.

Where to follow the game

TNT on TV. No YESS. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30 PM.

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie and Nicolas Claxton are definitely out. Kyrie Irving is officially out after being “questionable,” but it sounds like he’ll be back soon. I think.

All clear for Mike Budenholzer’s squad.

The game

One thing I’ve always appreciated about the NBA is that they always look to feature the game’s best players and matchups on MLK Day. This is a huge game (and my prediction for the Eastern Conference Finals) and I’m glad we get to watch and enjoy it.

For the Bucks, they may have an even bigger game coming up. On Thursday night, they welcome LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers to Milwaukee in what may be a Finals preview. Stakes are high for Mike Budenholzer and that entire organization.

How often is it when one of the game’s greatest players of all time scores a casual 42 points and it’s not the biggest takeaway from the game they were in? That was the life for Kevin Durant on Saturday night as he carved Orlando’s defense up with a variety of midrange jumpers, drives to the rim, post ups, threes, you name it! Look at this, man:

This is such a joy to watch. KD also played a season high 40 minutes on Saturday. The fact that he was able to dominate even as his minutes ramped up is a great, great sign for Steve Nash and friends.

This one’s gonna be a shootout. Both teams are top ten in pace and top three in three point efficiency (Bucks at second, Nets third). For the Nets, they’re going to need to solve their turnover woes. If they get sloppy tonight, the Bucks are liable to win this one by 20+ points.

As wingmen go, Khris Middleton is one of the best to have on your side. If I had to identify a guy on the Bucks that I would go to late to get a bucket, it’s him. He can score from all three levels and his efforts in the bubble against the Heat earned him a lot of respect from fans across the league. He’ll probably get the KD assignment and for the Nets, I’m assuming Bruce Brown will get his turns checking Middleton. We’re going to have a million questions about Brooklyn’s perimeter defense, and Brown has been amazing defensively when he’s touched the court.

The Nets aren’t the only team that made a big move to boost their championship odds. Milwaukee went big and made a move for former All Star Jrue Holiday this fall. Holiday’s been playing well so far and his ability to play lockdown defense, score well from deep, set up teammates, and get his own shot (he’s not in the top tier when it comes to getting his own, but good enough) is crucial and a big reason why the team decided to upgrade from Eric Bledsoe. It’s gonna be interesting to see who he’s assigned to tonight.

Gonna be a fun week of seeing some old friends of ours. Tonight, we’ll be seeing former Net Brook Lopez. Lopez’s transformation into a pure 3-point marksman is complete as the overwhelming majority of his shot attempts now come from downtown. He can still score in the post of course, but that’s not a staple of his game any more. It’ll make for an interesting night for DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Perry. Perry in particular has been having a hell of a week as the trades have led to his insertion into the rotation. Both of them are going to be drawn away from the rim where they’re most comfortable, so it’s going to take a team effort on the glass for the Nets tonight (Milwaukee is fourth in rebounding rate and sixth in offensive rebounding rate in the league this year).

Player to watch: Giannis Antetokuonmpo

If you’ve been on Twitter long enough, you’ve probably seen people tweet that there’s a Jay-Z bar for every situation, and for the two time reigning MVP, his would be: guess I’m successful; industry don’t love me no more

That’s been the case for Giannis since last summer when the Bucks got knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat. He’s gotten the criticism that franchise players often get when their teams fall short and don’t win the championship. Is all of it fair? Of course not, but that’s the game. Thankfully, he signed his max contract extension before the season started so we won’t have to suffer through endless free agency and “will he, won’t he” talk. All the focus on the transactional part of the game wears thin after a while. Let’s bring it back to the essence and focus on the actual game. Last word on this comes from Kyle Carr of Brew Hoop:

For years on end, any time the Milwaukee Bucks were mentioned, it was to invalidate their success or to mention that their best player should and will leave. This ranged from the trolls on Reddit and Twitter, fans (both Bucks’ fans and other fanbases) to NBC affiliates of other NBA teams, to the national sports media like ESPN, The Ringer and the sorts. In a small market especially, it is already stressful enough hoping that your team can win a championship. It is already stressful hoping your team can even assemble a roster that has a chance. Adding in outside noise meant that eventually, you would be worn down and your enjoyment as a fan would fade; years and years of having that joy taken away when you simply wanted to watch your transcendent talent was always the struggle Bucks fans faced.

On the court, there’s one particular flaw in Giannis’ game that could prove fatal. His free throw percentages have dropped for three straight seasons and he’s at a career low 57.5 percent from the field. We saw a missed free throw late cost the Bucks a winnable game on the road against the Celtics on Opening Night and it almost cost them again against the Mavs on Friday night. Narratives tend to stick and when they happen on national TV games, the chatter becomes a bit louder. Antetokuonmpo is one of the hardest working guys in the league and vows to get better as the season rolls on. He doesn’t lack for confidence and that ability to get back on the horse after getting knocked down will serve him well.

Everything else about his game is rock solid, though. He’s a terror in transition, a beast on the boards, a willing passer, and a lanky, rangy defender. It’s highly unlikely he wins the MVP for the third straight season (fun fact: the last NBA player to win it three straight seasons was Larry Bird from 1984-1986. Everyone else since then who had a chance fell short on the third year (Magic Johnson in 1990-91, Michael Jordan in 1992-1993, Tim Duncan in 2003-2004, Steve Nash in 2006-2007, LeBron James in 2010-2011 AND 2013-2014, and Stephen Curry in 2016-2017)). Dude is amazing and his positives weigh more than that one big negative.

The guy who last won the MVP before Giannis is pretty good, right?! James Harden made his Nets debut on Saturday night and put up a triple double in 39 minutes. As expected, his rhythm with his new teammates wasn’t all the way there and he committed a season high nine turnovers. That should change as he gets in tip top shape, more comfortable with his new teammates and everyone is back on the roster. Harden’s ability to draw fouls was always stress inducing for defenders and now that he’s back playing next to Durant, opponents will have even more to worry about. His playmaking makes life easy for everyone and now that the Nets will have an A++++ scorer on the court at all times, they’ll be able to feast on teams’ second units all year long.

From the Vault

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And with that in mind, we’re heading back to May 1967 when he spoke with NBC News’ Sander Vancour. Give it a listen and take it all in.

More reading: Brew Hoop