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Nets start homestand vs. Raptors

Oklahoma City Thunder v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Back at the crib. The Brooklyn Nets spent the week away from home as they went on a four game road trip. They closed it out on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons and used an overpowering fourth quarter to come away with a double digit victory on Sunday night. They’ll get a chance to get comfortable with some home cooking before hitting the road on Christmas week.

The opponent tonight will be the Toronto Raptors. Nick Nurse and friends are trying to get back in the playoffs after their COVID adventures had them stuck in Tampa, Florida last season. This is the second leg of a back-to-back after disposing of the Sacramento Kings last night in Toronto.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30 PM.

Injuries

Joe Harris is out. James Harden was out on Sunday for rest, but will be back tonight. Paul Millsap entered into the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols Monday and on Tuesday morning, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry and Jevon Carter were added to list. All will be required to quarantine for 10 days or until they return two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour window. Kyrie Irving remains out.

OG Anunoby is out. Precious Achiuwa is in health and safety protocols and is out. Khem Birch is out. Goran Dragic is out. David Johnson is out.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game in November.

It’s the holiday season and COVID outbreaks are happening again, inside the NBA and elsewhere. To reward the people that have gotten COVID vaccinated, the Nets and city government are giving away free tickets to city employees so they can attend games in person. That’s nice of them.

Speaking of COVID, come January 15th, if you aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t getting into Toronto to play against the Raptors. In the meantime, the Raptors will be off until Saturday because the Bulls game originally scheduled for Thursday has been postponed as the Bulls currently have 10 players in COVID protocols. Y’all be safe out here.

In a weird scheduling twist, the Nets’ next three opponents will all be on the second halves of a back-to-back. Funny how the schedule breaks sometimes.

We’ll see if the game off will do James Harden some good. He’s one of the league leaders in minutes and as he’s been trying to figure it out, he’s maintained his usual high workload. Without Harden, the Nets’ lack of capable ballhandlers got them in trouble against the Pistons press. In a good sign for the Nets, Harden has been driving to the basket a ton in his last four games played (21 night), and when he’s going downhill, he’s a foul drawing machine and he’ll help create good scoring opportunities for his teammates.

We’ll be seeing the current leader in minutes per game in the NBA this year. As it happens, Fred VanVleet only played 26 minutes last night, his lowest of this season and fewest since last April against the Warriors (he left that game due to a hip injury). VanVleet is the Raptors’ lead scoring option and can take a game over with his shooting from deep. FVV also announced a scholarship program at the University of Toronto. That’s what’s up.

Turnovers will be key to this game. The Raps are second best in forcing turnovers and are fifth best in taking care of the ball. Brooklyn can’t afford to be sloppy and in the few transition opportunities they do get, they’ve got to cash in.

Cam Thomas keeps making the most out of the opportunities he receives. The rookie was part of the closing lineup on Sunday and scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. Thomas is getting better by the day and the more he excels, the more the Nets can rely on him and give their big guns a little bit more rest. One thing the Nets can do the next time Harden/Durant are off is having Thomas on the court. The lineup Steve Nash ran out there at the beginning of the second quarter was nasty as hell.

We’ll get to watch another high-impact rookie tonight. Since we last saw him, Scottie Barnes has gotten better the more he’s played. In his last 15 games, he’s averaging around 14 points and eight rebounds on a 45/38/70 shooting split. He’s been highly impressive and for a Raptors team that is looking to figure out their future, the rook figures to play a big role in it.

Don’t be surprised if you see two other Nets rookies on the court with Millsap out. The Nets remain high on the 29th and 44th picks, Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards. Both are with the club tonight.

Player to watch: Pascal Siakam

Siakam is the guy for the Raptors and he’s finding his way after a shoulder injury kept him out for the first month and change. His usage is down slightly, but he’s making it happen and getting to the free throw line a bit more than he did last year. At 27 years old, Siakam is in the prime of his career and he’s gradually gotten better over time as he’s added skills to his repertoire.

Greatness at work every time he steps onto the court. Kevin Durant put on a masterclass Sunday night as his 51 points were a league high as he led the Nets to victory. Durant does everything you need on the court and with him playing like this, the Nets can stay on top of the Eastern Conference. After the game, KD mentioned protecting home court, and the Nets have been a much road team than at home. The Nets have talked a lot about building an identity and creating homecourt advantage at the clays, and a nice winning streak would do wonders in establishing that.

From the Vault

The last time a Net scored 50 points was in February 2020, prior to the pandemic. Hey, we know him!

One day, both of these franchise will retire Vince Carter’s number. It will be a great day when it does

More reading: Raptors HQ