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Nets start brief road trip in Cleveland vs. Cavs

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Keep bouncing. The Brooklyn Nets got off to a rocky start on Friday night against the Orlando Magic, but they fought all the way back and snuck away with a two point win in front of the hometown faithful at the clays. The win kept Brooklyn near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

The opponent tonight will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are off to a decent start, but they’ve been swamped by injuries recently. They lost to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, which was the team’s third straight loss. They’ve been off since Thursday and hope that the mini break gave them a chance to recharge their batteries.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for the locals. NBATV for the out-of-towners. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7 p.m.

Injuries

Kevin Durant missed Friday’s game with a right shoulder sprain. He’s expected back tonight. Bruce Brown had to leave Friday’s game with a hamstring injury. He’s out for tonight’s contest. Paul Millsap is expected to return after being away from the team for personal reasons. Joe Harris will miss both games of this two game road trip. Nicolas Claxton is out and it looks like he’ll need some more time to ramp up so he can return to action. Kyrie Irving? You know.

Lauri Markkanen was in COVID protocols, but is expected back tonight. Collin Sexton underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and will miss the rest of this season. Jarrett Allen had been out with a non-COVID illness, but is slated to return tonight. Cedi Osman is doubtful with lower back spasms. Lamar Stevens is doubtful with a right ankle sprain. Evan Mobley is out with a right elbow sprain.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game last week.

It’s important to be a part of the community, and for organizations that have large imprints like the Nets do, it takes on extra importance. On Saturday afternoon, Nic Claxton, James Johnson and others were at Cavalry Baptist Church in Red Hook helping to hand out Thanksgiving meals for families that are suffering from food insecurity. The team has done similar events in the past as they’ve tried to address the issues of food insecurity in New York City. As we move into the holiday and beyond, we have to be there for each other and ensure that the people next to us are safe and secure.

Speaking of James Johnson, he has stepped up when the Nets have needed. With all the frontcourt injuries, Johnson has been thrown into the rotation and had his best showing as a Net on Friday night. Johnson stepped in and had a smooth game of 17 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists across 25 minutes. With Brown out, will the coaching staff insert JJ into the starting lineup? The Cavs have the size advantage over Brooklyn, but he’s acquitted himself well coming off the bench over the past few days. Now that Millsap is back, the Nets have some options to work with.

Outside of Barclays Center on Friday, protesters gathered after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in Wisconsin after he killed two men and injured another at a Black Lives Matter protest. That protest in 2020 came after the police shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake. Kristian Winfield of the NY Daily News covered the protest and spoke with a Brooklyn based abolitionist named Na-lekan Masego (aka Pharaoh), who said:

“Not only are Black people targets from birth, but anyone who is supporting the movement, that is supporting Black people, are also targets. That’s something that needs to be globalized. People need to understand that when you are a white person, when you are a brown person, when you are anybody else, it does not matter if you are Black: When you push the message of equity and liberation, you are automatically a target of this system.

And they do not care what happens to you.”

Back on the court, we’ll be seeing a matchup between two of the best big men from the mid 2010s. Kevin Love is back from COVID protocols and is playing around 20 minutes a night coming off the bench. K-Love makes his living from deep these days, but he’s playing a bit closer to the basket this year compared to last year. He had a rough showing in camp with Team USA over the summer, which led to him dropping out before the team went to Tokyo and won gold. Now that he’s back, he’s looking to reestablish himself as a capable player that can help teams win games.

On the other side stands LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA was the man down the stretch for Brooklyn on Friday night as his baskets and low post play helped Brooklyn complete the comeback. Aldridge has anchored the second unit for the Nets and has been one of the best bench players in the NBA this year.

Over the weekend, Cam Thomas had his coming out party for the Long Island Nets as he went off for 46 points on the way to a victory. With all the injuries on the big club, there might be some opportunities for Thomas to get some non-garbage time minutes soon enough. We’ll see.

Last week, the Nets dominated early but started to let the rope go and the Cavs fought back to make it uncomfortable for Brooklyn. Now that they have some more talent available to them, they’ll give the Nets another tough fight. Brooklyn can’t afford to ease up or allow them to get back into the game if they jump out to a huge lead again.

Ultimately, the Nets’ chances of success rely on the shoulders of Kevin Durant. KD will be back after getting a few days off to rest his right shoulder. He last played on Wednesday against these Cavaliers and while he had a quality game, he wasn’t his usual dominant self. The Nets do have a few extra off days coming up over the next two weeks, so he’ll get a chance to maintain his rhythm and save on some wear and tear.

Player to watch: Darius Garland

Without Sexton, more of the playmaking and scoring responsibilities fall on the third year player’s shoulders. In the six games without Sexton, he’s playing close to 37 minutes a night and averaging 21 points and five assists on a .454/.328/.917 split. It’s a huge task to undertake on the fly, but if Garland can continue to build on what’s been a good season thus far, he can help the Cavs stay above water and hopefully compete for a playoff spot deeper into the season.

James Harden is starting to look like his old self again. The shot wasn’t there on Friday, but he maintained his level of aggressiveness, kept attacking and took 20 free throw attempts on his way to victory. Great players always find a way to make it happen, and with Harden continuing to get back to MVP form, he helps Brooklyn maintain some flow on offense even as they try to figure things out.

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