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Nets hoping for a split in Cleveland ... without Kevin Durant

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Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Oh well. The Nets “Big Three” arrived in Cleveland Wednesday for the second of what will be a few baseball-like series that will keep a visiting team around for a couple of games. Alas, after another thrilling (but defense-free) game, the Nets went back to their hotel without their 10th win. Collin Sexton used the game as a coming-out party, pouring in 42 points and single-handedly taking over the game in the second OT. Although the game wasn’t televised nationally, it was the most viewed League Pass game of the season in the U.S., fourth overseas.

The “Big Three” combined for 96 points but also a ton of minutes. James Harden played 51 minutes, Kevin Durant 50 and Kyrie Irving 48. The Nets will be back at it Thursday night. Harden said he wasn’t concerned about his conditioning, pointing out that the Nets have one of the best training staffs in the NBA. We shall see.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30 p.m. ET. Saturday’s game has been moved back to 8:00 p.m.

Injuries

For the Nets, Kevin Durant was is “questionable.” Nicolas Claxton remains out with tendinopathy and Spencer Dinwiddie continues recovering and rehabbing after surgery for a partial tear of the ACL in his right knee.

Kevin Love (right calf strain) and Michael Dellevedova (concussion) are out. Darius Garland (right shoulder strain) and Dylan Windler (left hand fracture) are questionable. On Thursday night, Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kevin Porter Jr., the Cavs troubled point guard, was sent to the Rockets for a future, top-55 protected second rounder ... essentially nothing.

The game

Can the Nets play better defense? Hard to think they’ll play any worse than they did on Wednesday.

“We had breakdowns all over the place,” explained Steve Nash post-game. “So, we got a lot of work to do. We know that. We know that we have a very offensive team right now. So we have to find ways to defend, to stay connected, to be on the same page, and that’s going to take some time. It’s definitely early doors as far as this team, this new group learning to defend together, and how we can be effective defensively. That’s gotta be the part of our game we focus on the most going forward.”

The “new group” of course is a reference to the “Big Three.” Remember, before last night, Kyrie Irving and James Harden never played together and Brooklyn was missing three players who were among its best defenders: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, the latter two now with the Cavaliers, of course.

Of course, the Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff admitted he and his team were at a loss on how to prepare for the “Big Three” before Wednesday’s game.

“You didn’t know what they were going to do because we hadn’t seen it before,” Bickerstaff said after Thursday afternoon’s practice. “You didn’t know what all three of them on the floor would look like...

“Even your best defense against them on certain nights won’t matter because they’re that good offensively.”

Bickerstaff suggested that the Cavs will have to play better defense themselves, describing Wednesday’s effort. “It got a little leaky in the middle of the floor,” the Cavs coach noted. He also said the Cavs will have to pay more attention to Joe Harris, who scored only six points Wednesday.

“We lost a couple of guys and they missed shots. We gotta pay better attention to guys like Joe Harris because we know he is capable of making shots that he missed some the other night.”

In fact, Harris, coming off the bench, was only 2-of-10.

How will Nets react? Expect more bench play with or without KD, not just because of the big minutes played by the “Big Three” but also because the Nets will be flying back to Brooklyn for a two game set vs. the Heat, the first Saturday night. Better defense? You’d better hope so.

Player to watch: Collin Sexton

For those who are just a big masochistic, Collin Sexton is the answer to the Nets trivia question: Who besides James Young, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were taken in the NBA Draft with the Brooklyn picks traded away by Billy King in 2013. Sexton, a star at Alabama, was traded by Boston to Cleveland in the 2018 trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston.

After a couple of solid years with the Cavs, Sexton has exploded this year. After his 42-point outburst vs. the Nets, the 22-year-old is now averaging 27 points a game to go along with 3.7 assists and a 53/50/77 shooting line.

His spectacular rise is, in part, due to the Cavs giving him more freedom... as Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer wrote Thursday...

The Cavs are no longer asking Sexton to be a point guard. They drafted him at no. 8 in 2018 and gave him the keys to the offense as a rookie, but that was never his game. He’s not Luka Doncic or Trae Young, who can score and pass at a high level. Sexton walks on the court for only one reason...

As a result, Sexton is playing as free as anyone in the league. Defenses know what’s going to happen when he gets a screen at the top of the key. But that doesn’t mean they can stop it. He scored 20 straight points on Wednesday during both overtimes, and took turns scoring against all three of Brooklyn’s stars:

Although his 42 points vs. Brooklyn was his best of the season but in the nine games he’s played thus far this season, he hasn’t scored fewer than 20 points. And you’d think that after his performance in Game 1 of the series, Sexton will have even more freedom!

From the Vault

Wednesday night, the Cavaliers played a tribute video of Kyrie Irving’s time in Cleveland. It included this: the most clutch shot in recent NBA memory. Game 7 on the 2016 NBA Finals. The Cavs were trying to come back from a 3-1 deficit and has time wound down, the ball was in Kyrie’s hands. Enjoy.

More reading: Fear the Sword