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First place Nets open up April against the Hornets

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Phoenix Suns v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Stormy weather, but a sunny finish. It was pretty messy for the Brooklyn Nets for much of last night’s game, but they got in formation late and marched away to beat the Houston Rockets by 12 points. More importantly, the win put them at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for the first time since April 2003. Now if you guys will excuse me, I have to go find my Rocawear shirt to put on so I can REALLY get into the 2003 spirit...

The opponent tonight will be the Charlotte Hornets. Surprisingly, Michael Jordan’s guys are solidly in the playoff hunt and are doing better than a lot of us expected. They helped the cause by beating the Washington Wizards in DC on Tuesday night. The win helped keep them in first place ahead of the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division. At 6-4 over the last 10, Miami has a better record than their playoff competitors, the Heat, Knicks, Celtics and Bulls and the same record as the Hawks.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and TNT on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30 PM.

Join us on Clubhouse, too! Details coming soon.

Injuries

Kevin Durant and Spencer Dinwiddie are still out. James Harden had to leave last night’s game due to right hamstring tightness. No word on his status for this one. Landry Shamet was a game time decision vs. the Rockets but didn’t play. Expect the same vs. Hornets.

LaMelo Ball is out indefinitely with his fractured right wrist. Malik Monk is listed as probable for this game.

The game

The Hornets won the first game in December.

It’s Opening Day, and that means the New York Yankees will take priority on the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (and WFAN 101.9 FM). With that, in mind, I hope everyone is able to find YES2 on their dial soon.

Brooklyn is on night two of a back-to-back while Charlotte is on night one of a b2b. After this, they head to Indiana to face the Pacers. The Nets get two days off before starting another back to back that will take them to Chicago and MSG to face the Knicks.

The Hornets are a young team on the rise, and with the low expectations coming into the year, everything they achieve this season is gravy. As Chase Whitney of At the Hive notes:

Whether or not the Hornets organization views this season as one worth competing in is far beyond me, but I do know this; pushing for a playoff spot or standing pat and letting the team develop are both good options. Playoff experience for young players is invaluable, especially to an organization starved of success, but the chances of Charlotte getting past a Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston or Miami are slim-to-none. The Hornets just aren’t there yet; the playoffs are about which team has the best players, and the Hornets’ best players aren’t in the same stratosphere as the East’s contenders... yet.

The “...yet” is why it’s fine to let this season run its course. Besides the fact that another lottery pick would only help the situation, the Hornets already have a handful of talented, fun young players led by a future perennial All-NBA candidate in LaMelo. Everything the Hornets do for the next four years revolves entirely around him, because if this team is ever to win (i.e. advance past the second round of the playoffs), he needs to be fully-optimized as the best player. If a move that helps long-term presents itself and the player is a good fit with LaMelo, Kupchak should pull the trigger immediately.

Let the kids grow and plug the right veterans in and you’ve got a party.

The Blake Griffin “I’m not Washed” tour continues! Griffin was pretty solid last night as his 11 points, six rebounds, and four assists made the box score look pretty. Not to mention he’s growing more and more comfortable in his role coming off the bench. He didn’t play in Brooklyn’s last b2b set, but this game is at home so who knows if we see him tonight and for how long.

Hello, Bismack Biyombo

Amazingly, he’s been in the league 10 seasons now. Feels like he’s been around a lot less than that.

Speaking of bigs, NICOLAS CLAXTON HIVE STAND UP. Claxton did it again last night as he provided the team with a much needed burst of energy and was on the court for the entire fourth quarter. A lot of Nets fans want him to start, but Steve Nash is gonna take his time and let him grow at his own pace. I’d love to see more of the Griffin x Claxton pairing. We gotta get them a snappy nickname soon or have them star in a buddy cop movie. Whatever comes first.

Charlotte can get loose with the ball. They have the third highest turnover rate in the NBA this year this season and that could prove to be troublesome against an offense like the Nets. Fortunately for the Hornets, Brooklyn doesn’t force many turnovers on defense so they’ll be able to get their fair share amount of good looks.

Terry Rozier has stepped up in Ball’s absence and his ability to heat up and score in bunches will be essential in a matchup like this. Tyler Johnson will get a lot of minutes tonight, and the Nets are going to need him to knock down the open threes that come his way. Depending on how the game shakes out, might even see Chris Chiozza get some run too.

Player to watch: Gordon Hayward

Man left Boston and got his groove back. Hayward is averaging around 20 points, six boards and four assists on a .473/.417/.847 shooting split. Hayward isn’t on that top tier of small forwards, but he’s very solidly in that second tier and that’s still a quality, quality player. Hayward can get his own shot and while not the shot creator Ball is, is still pretty capable in his own right. He cooked the Nets (version one of the team) the first time he saw them so he’ll be feeling confident and ready to rock.

Speaking of people who left Boston and are better off, Kyrie Irving will be running the show while Harden is hobbled. Irving was masterful last night as he put up a smooth 31/6/12 statline in his 39 minutes of playing time. Most importantly, he and Claxton gave the Nets a huge spark when they were in the doldrums for much of the early part of the game. I heard Zach Lowe mention on the Lowe Post with Brooklyn Nets superfan Mina Kimes that the team plays at a much faster pace with Irving on the court and Harden off so it’ll be interesting to see how the team plays tonight. If the shots aren’t there, Irving’s court vision and craftiness will keep Brooklyn’s offense humming.

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More reading: At the Hive