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Nets look to keep winning streak alive vs Pacers

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Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Five the hard way. The Brooklyn Nets were putting together another great performance Monday night, but they took their feet off the gas and almost tricked a game off against the spunky New York Knicks. Fortunately for the Nets, they avoided disaster and came away with a much needed victory. The win streak is currently at five games. We don’t take over, we borrow blocks...

The opponent tonight will be the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers find themselves on the outside looking in of the crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture, and their recent struggles are making things harder on them. They went to Denver on Monday night and fell apart in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets pulled away late and won by double digits. The team had weather related travel delays that caused Monday’s game to be delayed an hour and held up the team’s flight into town from Phoenix. The loss was their seventh in the last ten games.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7 PM.

Injuries

Blake Griffin, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Kevin Durant are out.

TJ Warren is out. Jeremy Lamb is questionable.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting in February.

We need to start off with this, so here

Simple and plain.

So, is it officially scoreboard watching season or no? Either way, the Nets will be keeping their eyes on Philadelphia tonight as the 76ers and Bucks will face off in what might be a playoff preview. Haven’t had to pay attention to the top of the conference like this in 18 years. It’s good to be back.

Kyrie saved the day for the Nets. He scored a hyper efficient 34 points with a dazzling array of layups, midrange jumpers, and timely buckets against solid Knicks defense. However, his defense play on Julius Randle saved the Nets from complete disaster (it also led to incredibly salty reactions from Knicks fans and writers, which is always a good time around these parts). The beauty of having Irving on your time is that you’re never out of a game when he’s locked in and he can make a good shot out of the faintest bit of room. You can almost always get a good shot when he’s on the court. Malcolm Brogdon will draw the assignment, and he’s hoping it goes a lot better than it did last time. Brogdon went 5-17 from the field while Irving went for 35 points (8-17 from the field and 17-17 from the free throw line).

The Nets went big in the starting lineup to counteract the Knicks size, so I wonder if they’ll do it again tonight. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis don't attack the basket in the ways that Julius Randle does, but they're still effective on the inside. The Nets started Bruce Brown in the first Pacers game, and it worked like a charm. Brown came off the bench on Monday, but was part of the closing lineup that held on for the win. Great thing about the Nets is they have a lot of flexibility and can test things out and still be in good position to win games and climb the standings.

Speaking of Turner, teams are sniffing around the Pacers to see if they can snatch him up via trade. I’d be very surprised if that happens. Back on the court, his rim protection has him as a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and a deterrent for the Nets on the inside. Turner can also pop out to hit the three on offense, and we’ll see if he can lure DeAndre Jordan away from the basket. This should be a good night for Nicolas Claxton to see a bit more playing time and a matchup against Turner would do him some good.

The Nets didn’t shoot well from three in the first meeting, but it didn’t matter as they crushed the Pacers from the free throw line and were up by as much as 36 points. The Pacers don’t have the horses to keep up with the Nets from deep and on the season, are allowing opponents to shoot 38.3 percent from three, fifth worst in the NBA. Bad, bad mix.

One other thing: the Pacers are now 10th in the East. If they finish 10th, they’ll go into the play-in series for teams that finish 7 through 10. But if they fall out of the playoffs, the Nets are beneficiaries. They’ll finally get the heavily protected second rounder they picked up in the 2016 Draft Night trade that got the Nets ... Caris LeVert. That would give Brooklyn four picks in the 2021 Draft: their own first and three seconds: the Suns, the Hawks and the Suns. Those are trade assets at least.

Player to watch: Caris Levert

We know him! Our old friend is back on the court after the Pacers discovered a growth in his kidney and had it successfully removed. Levert was a good Net and helped bring the team back to respectability. Kyrie Irving spoke about Caris following Monday night’s game

We’re all happy to see him back and thriving.

On the court, he’ll have to get up to speed fairly quickly. The Pacers desperately need a player of Levert’s ability that can open things up for their offense. Tony East of Forbes has more:

In recent weeks, the team has often looked static when they have the ball. Opposing team’s have figured out many of the things Nate Bjorkgren’s team wants to do, and defenses are able to send double teams at Sabonis and other ball handlers to slow down the blue and gold. The offense dramatically slows down for a few instances every game.

LeVert will reduce, and potentially remove, those stale stretches. He isn’t so dominant that he can singlehandedly save the Pacers when they are out of rhythm, but the Pacers desperately need another creative ball-handler, and LeVert can be that. He will draw the attention of defenses even when he’s away from the play, and he’s more than capable of getting a good look when he has the ball in his hands. He provides a level of creation that the Pacers don’t have on the roster right now.

As it stands right now, the Pacers are 2.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for the sixth seed (and avoiding the playin tournament) and 1.5 games behind the Knicks for the eighth seed in the Conference. Maybe Levert can be the spark that helps them climb the standings?

James Harden keeps on keeping on. He put together another triple double on Monday night and had the Nets offense humming for much of the night. The only downside is that he turned the ball over seven times again, which is the third time in the last four games he’s coughed it up 7+ times. That (and the fact that he’s gone 1-19 in the past three games from deep) is an issue and one that could prove fatal once the Nets get into the playoffs. But for now, Harden can make up for his struggles from deep by getting to the line like he always does. Defenses are always under pressure when he has the ball and if Harden isn’t hurting you with his scoring, he’s making sure his teammates feast.

From the Vault

This was a good time

More reading: Indy Cornrows