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Nets start tough road trip in Portland

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Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

We’ll take that. It was a bit difficult, but the Brooklyn Nets were able to bring it home and got their first win of the season against the Washington Wizards on Sunday night. The win helped them keep pace with the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia 76ers, who survived a barfight at MSG against the New York Knicks.

The opponent tonight will be the Portland Trailblazers. Terry Stotts’ guys are in good enough shape and are hoping to go on a run in the playoffs. They didn’t help themselves on Sunday as the Dallas Mavericks knocked them around and won big. It’s like that sometimes.

Tonight is the start of a ‘really tough trip’ in Steve Nash’s eyes.

“We’re going to play some really good teams. Portland is capable of beating anyone,” Nash said. “Utah has been the best team in the league record-wise for most of the year and Detroit is a tough matchup for us. It’ll be a really tough trip. We’re going to be a little shorthanded and we’re going to have to have a real scrappy mentality to go out there and get something done.”

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Late night affair so we’re getting the party started later.

Injuries

Buckle up. Kevin Durant and Spencer Dinwiddie are out. The newest Net, Alize Johnson, won’t be playing as he works his way through health and safety protocols. Landry Shamet left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and didn’t travel with the team to Portland. Kyrie Irving is out for the week as he tends to a family matter. Hope he and his folks are good. James Harden? He’s questionable with a neck injury.

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are out.

The game

This is the first night of a back-to-back for the Nets. When they’re done here, they head to Utah to face the league-leading Jazz.

As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up across the country, players across the NBA have started to get vaccinated as well. Here’s Robert Covington

We’ve still got a long ways to go at home and abroad to make sure everyone gets vaccinated, we end the pandemic, and we keep everyone safe. Gotta keep working together and doing right by others, y’all

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take an early trip to the Vault...

hahahahahahahahaha.

Speaking of Blake Griffin, he looked pretty dang spry in his Brooklyn debut. Don’t let the two points fool you. He was active on defense, did a decent job initiating offense when he had the ball, and dunked for the first time in a long while ... 464 days, but who was counting. If he’s able to be a positive contributor, he’ll add another dimension to the league’s best offense.

And for the other person in our early trip to the Vault, Carmelo Anthony has really found a home in the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t that long ago Melo was on the outside looking in as teams were not looking to bring the future Hall of Famer on following some rough seasons. However, he’s filling his role of team leader, bench scorer, and professional bucket getter well and honestly, I’m happy to see him making positive contributions.

The Nets signed Alize Johnson to a contract on Sunday night. I don’t know anything about him, so give Cody Mallory’s thread a spin:

Without Irving and Shamet ... and possibly Harden, Tyler Johnson will get some more playing time. After a rough start to the year, Johnson has settled into a nice groove and has been doing a good job initiating some of the offense and knocking down his three pointers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is back as well and he'll get some quality minutes. When guys are out, the next person has to step up so this week will be big for both of them.

It's a shame CJ McCollum got injured because he's been having the best season of his career and would've had a great chance to make the All Star team. He's averaging a career high 24 points and perhaps most impressively, is shooting a career high 43 percent from deep on ten shots a game. McCollum is an excellent player and someone who can cook at a moment's notice.

Player to watch: Damian Lillard

It’s that time of year where we wind down the regular season and start shaping MVP narratives. We know the big ones such as LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and James Harden. Lillard is in that conversation and the better he plays, the more he'll build that case for himself. If he does get the MVP, he'll be the first Blazer to win it since Bill Walton in 1978.

If the game is close late, it'll be Dame Time. Lillard is a clutch monster and has the ability to score from anywhere within the state of Oregon. He's an impossible cover and has changed what is possible on a basketball court. It's a joy watching him.

Steve Nash mentioned James Harden’s high workload on Sunday night, and there might be a chance to sneak him some rest this week. The next two nights are very difficult games against top tier teams so he should be out there. However, the game in Detroit on Friday could be a spot to sneak him a night off, and it would be a nice little break as the next Nets game wouldn’t be until Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Assuming he plays tonight, Harden will have a heavy workload to shoulder. Harden is used to it and his playmaking has made life easier for everyone around him. With the Nets playing another tough one tomorrow, Harden will have to play at MVP levels if Brooklyn wants to pull off this back to back.

From the Vault

The basketball world lost a great one yesterday as Elgin Baylor passed away at the age of 86. Baylor’s one of the all time greats fans my age (early 30s) don’t know as much about as we should, so this from Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll really helps put it in perspective:

Baylor himself was incredible for most of those years. He had what stood at the time as the highest-scoring game in Lakers’ history in 1960, scoring 71 points against the New York Knicks in a performance that wouldn’t be topped until Kobe Bryant dropped 81 on the Toronto Raptors, nearly 46 years later. He averaged 38.3 points per game during the 1961-62 season, even though he was playing only on weekends because he was simultaneously enlisted in the Army Reserve and could only fly out and play in games on a weekend pass.

Let’s pause for a second. That is, legitimately, one of the most insane storylines in NBA history. Like, imagine if LeBron James could currently only join the Lakers for Saturday and Sunday games because he was currently in the army, or if Kobe Bryant had done so for one season. Forget DNP-Old. How about DNP-Army? Twitter would have been wild. Baylor’s NBA was truly a different time.

With that in mind, let's take a trip back in time

More reading: Blazers Edge