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Nets head to LA to face champs

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

YOU KNOW THE VIBES. For a large part of Tuesday night’s game in Phoenix against the Suns, the shorthanded Brooklyn Nets looked overmatched. However, the Nets found their groove, withstood some heavy Chris Paul punches, and pulled off the comeback of the season with a four-point win on Tuesday night. It was the team’s fourth straight win. Don’t sleep, y’all.

The opponent tonight will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and for the champs, this year has been particularly unique as they look to defend their championship amidst a pandemic. There have been some bumps in the road, but they’re still near the top of the Western Conference and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. It was their eighth win in the last nine games.

Where to follow the game

TNT on television. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Late night hype so we’re getting started after 10:00.

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie and Nicolas Claxton have been out for a while. You know that. Kevin Durant’s hamstring isn’t all the way healed yet so he’s out again. New Nets Iman Shumpert is out with a left hamstring strain. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is questionable with right knee soreness. Kyrie Irving is probable with lower back tightness.

Anthony Davis will be out a few weeks due to a calf strain. AD has been dealing with a balky Achilles for a while so the Lakers are guaranteed to be as cautious as humanly possible.

The game

Even with two of the league’s best players out, this is still one of the most anticipated games of the season. When the NBA does their second half schedule, I’m hoping we get another Lakers vs. Nets game, this time with everyone fully healthy.

As the Lakers try to get through this season after a quick Finals turnaround and try to fit in all their new puzzle pieces, the games take on a more experimental feel than we’re used to seeing. Kyle Kuzma talked about this a while back:

“You don’t want to dwell on it, because the best thing about the NBA is you play 72 games. So we get another crack at it in 36 to 48 hours. But it kind of just is what it is. We’re a brand new team, we’re playing like 14 people. So it’s a tough situation. Obviously we’re working through things, the coaching staff is trying to figure out rotations, and figure out what works best with what players, what players can play with certain lineups, and that’s just the point of the season we’re in.”

Speaking of new guys, the frontcourt duo of Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell have provided a nice bit of work at the 5 position for Frank Vogel’s squad. Gasol’s passing ability allows for the offense to try new things and get clean looks while Harrell provides great rebounding, energy, and toughness off of the bench. You may not be able to play Harrell huge minutes against the likes of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid when it’s title time, but maybe the way he’ll be deployed defensively this time around will help him out some.

The Lakers may be a couple of games behind the surging Utah Jazz out west, but they are the Lakers and they are led by LeBron James.

One thing that I was most impressed by during the Nets comeback was the play of the bench. Guys like Landry Shamet and Tyler Johnson struggled mightily in the early parts of the season, but they’ve continued to work hard and it’s starting to pay off. Their improved play also means the Nets can sneak the Big Three some more rest without fear of everything collapsing if they’re not out there for 36+ minutes a night.

Pace is going to play a determining factor in this one. When the Nets are on it, they speed the game up and dare you to try and match them shot for shot from deep, you will lose. The Lakers are near the bottom of the league in threes attempted per game and middle of the pack in pace, so this will be a nice stylistic clash tonight.

If Kyrie Irving is back tonight, the Lakers will have a nice battle on their hands. Irving has been sensational this season and when we last saw him on the court Monday, he was setting fire to the Sacramento Kings. Irving is an impossible matchup, and the Lakers have a nice collection of perimeter defenders that will be up to the task. Teams underestimate Alex Caruso at their peril.

Oh yeah, happy anniversary to Sean Marks. Five years ago today, the Nets handed the keys to the brand new HSS Training Center to Marks, naming him general manager.

Player to watch: LeBron James

Fo’, fo’ fo’. Four rings, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs. The old man is still on the throne and it’s going to take a hell of an effort to knock him off of it. He’s played in every game this season and is averaging around 26 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists on a smooth .504/.378/.711 shooting split. He’s camping out a little bit more from three this year, which makes an already difficult player to cover even more impossible to deal with.

Along with athletes in the WNBA and other professional sports, Bron kept himself busy with his “More than a Vote” campaign this fall. In December, he spoke about why he focused on Black voters with the New York Times:

“It’s authentic to who I am. I come from the Black community. I understand my Black people and what we go through on a day-to-day basis. I understand that we’ve not been given a lot of information along the course of time, and I understand how important our vote is.

“I listen to my kids in my hometown of Akron, Ohio, I listen to my kids in my I Promise School, and one of the things that we always talk about is how we don’t get a lot of information, or we feel that we’re not appreciated, or we feel that our vote does not count.

“So, you know, not only am I trying to to engage with my kids at an early age — third, fourth, fifth graders — but also the ones that also have the opportunity to vote now: the 18-year-olds, the 22-year-olds, the 25-year-olds, the 40-year-olds.”

People’s champ.

One former MVP is out, so let’s focus on the other one that works in Brooklyn! James Harden. The Nets are 11-5 when he starts and 5-1 when he’s part of the Big Three. He’d durable, missing only one game, and does what he needs to win. Let him tell you.

“The way we’re playing and the potential we have as a team is what I’m excited about,” Harden said. “Coming into Phoenix and they’d won six in a row, we’re down two of our best players and we come in and win after being down [21] at half? That’s exciting.

“We could’ve easily gave up … but we didn’t give up, and we won. So that’s exciting. Now we’ve just got to continue to build. Hopefully we get KD and Ky back next game, and just keep this train rolling.”

The numbers he’s put up in the last month are one thing. 24.3 points, 11.8 assists and 8.4 assists. His leadership is quite another. When Harden had his initial press conference, he described himself as a “great leader” with a smile. He wasn’t kidding around, though. If anything, that’s what’s he been the most.

From the Vault

Love you, Kobe

More reading: Silver Screen and Roll