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Nets to face Pelicans with decimated roster

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Buzzer beaters are great when you’re on the right side of the scoreboard, but if you’re on the wrong side, it sucks and that’s what happened in Miami two nights ago. The ball was in Bam Adebayo’s hands when as the clock wound down with the score tied. Game.

The big news, of course, was that Kevin Durant had to leave the game with a left thigh contusion. The Nets, with Durant on the team flight, landed in New Orleans Sunday night to get ready for Tuesday’s game with the Pelicans. The injuries, as we will soon note, is the story.

Where to follow the game

The game will be on the YES2 Network, but if that’s not available (and the 20-second delay on the YES app doesn’t do it for you), the game will also be aired on TNT. Nets Radio will carry the game on WFAN 101.9 FM. Tip-off after 7:30 p.m.

You can join us on NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game. Details here.

Injuries

Oy. Kevin Durant (thigh contusion) out. James Harden (hamstring) out. Tyler Johnson (knee) out. Chris Chiozza (hand) out. Spencer Dinwiddie (torn ACL) still out. And both Nic Claxton and Reggie Perry (health and safety protocols) are also out. No word on how long any of them will be out ... and in Claxton and Perry’s cases, how they wound up in the protocols.

For the Pelicans, Nickell Alexander-Walker (ankle) and Josh Hart (thumb) are out and James Johnson (adductor) is doubtful.

The game

The Nets won the first game vs. the Pelicans two weeks ago in a blowout, 139-111, Kevin Durant’s perfect return from a 24-game absence due to a hamstring strain. The Nets also got 24 points from Kyrie Irving and 22 from LaMarcus Aldridge. The Pelicans were short handed that night, however. Brandon Ingram missed his fifth straight game with a right foot injury. Now the shoe (or sneaker) is on the other foot.

The Pelicans have lost three straight including two to the surging Knicks after winning three straight, among them one over the 76ers two nights after the Nets blew them out. Such is the fate of young teams. They make mistakes, they collapse late.

Specifically, that’s what happened against the Knicks the other night at the Garden. As Oleh Kosel of The Bird Writes, our Pelicans counterpart on SB Nation, the game went from a win to a “teachable moment” for the young Pels. Setting the stage, New Orleans was up, 103-100, with 7.8 seconds left...

The Pelicans had orders to foul if the basketball was put on the floor by the Knicks and, of course, not give up the three. Two cardinal sins were committed. Derrick Rose put the ball on the floor — Eric Bledsoe failed to foul him — and Lonzo Ball left Bullock momentarily to help on Rose’s drive which resulted in the painful three-point make.

The Knicks won in OT. Stan Van Gundy was not pleased.

“There was no lack of clarity,” Van Gundy said post-game. “We made two mistakes on the play. We screwed up the play. When we do that, we deserve to lose. … I don’t care if you’re a senior in high school, you should know what to do with 7.8 seconds left. No excuse whatsoever.”

Still, SVG has two of the best young bigs in the NBA and they producing. Zion Williamson is averaging 29.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds this month. His only stinker was against the Nets when he finished with 16, 4 and 6. Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram is averaging 26.5, 5.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists in April.

Other than youth, the Pelicans big problem is defense. They rank 27th overall in defensive rating and are particularly bad vs. the three. With the depleted roster Steve Nash is faced with, expect the Nets to try to get an advantage beyond the arc, considering how well Joe Harris and Landry Shamet have been stroking it and the Pels inability to stop things.

Don’t even try to guess a starting lineup for Brooklyn with only nine bodies on hand. Don’t expect Mike James or anyone else to be added by game time. The Nets would have to waive LaMarcus Aldridge (which they have yet to do) to create a spot. Then assuming it is James, he would have to be released by CSKA Moscow who has suspended him but not yet given him his walking papers. (There could also be an issue with compensation. CSKA might want some.)

Player to watch: Zion Williamson

Who else? The wunderkind, Zion Williamson has been playing at an elite level all year and after a rough, injury-filled rookie year is now establishing himself as the generational talent pundits, draftniks and fans all thought he would be.

He’s not just physically immense and an athletic miracle, Williamson is also a gifted and willing passer and a charismatic presence with defensive possibilities as well. As CBS Sports pointed out the other day, his scoring prowess at such a young age is very rare.

He is just 20 with plenty of room to grow into something special. He’s so special in fact that teams around the league are looking forward to 2023 when he could be a free agent. He got Knick fans all sweaty in the post-game two nights ago when he professed a love of playing at the Garden.

“I’m glad you asked that,’’ Williamson said, grinning, when Marc Berman asked how he felt about New York. “New York is the mecca of basketball. I love playing here. I played here in college [at Duke]. This is my first time playing in the pros. This atmosphere, whether they’re cheering for you or booing you, it’s amazing. Outside of New Orleans, obviously, this might be my favorite place to play. I can’t lie to you.’’

Of course, he did say, “outside of New Orleans” and as Russ Bengston noted, there’s a lot of like about the Garden, but more to like about the Benjamins.

So, expect a few more Knick fans to tune in Tuesday to watch their next superstar play. Whatever.

From the Vault

Put in the camera in the corner of all draft rooms of lottery teams on Draft Night and you’re likely to hit the, um, lottery when the owner of the first overall pick gets announced. It happened two years ago in New Orleans where the Pels, with the fourth best odds to get Zion Williamson, won the pick. The front office was tense, anxious but hopeful. Then the final cards were drawn...

Some times, these things don’t work out. The video of the Trail Blazers winning the 2007 lottery and Greg Oden is still around as a cautionary tale, but for at least one night, it’s special.

More reading: The Bird Writes.