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Showcase Sunday: Nets host Suns in marquee matchup

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San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

One two one two come through run through. The Brooklyn Nets hosted the Boston Celtics on Friday night with a chance to jump back into first place in the Eastern Conference standings. They were able to get the job done with a five-point win in front of the hometown fans. The road gets tougher starting today, but these dudes got no quit in ‘em.

The opponent today, like this afternoon, will be the Phoenix Suns. It’s been a dream year for Monty Williams’ guys and they are within striking distance of the one seed Utah Jazz. They've been off for the past few days after losing to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night. The Suns will be in town a little bit longer as they visit the red hot New York Knicks on Monday night.

Where to follow the game

YES2 and ESPN on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Basketball and brunch so the party is getting started after 3:30 PM.

Join us in NetsDaily Clubhouse. Details on the way.

Injuries

Kevin Durant and Tyler Johnson are “probable” and Woj says he plans on playing. We’ll know more, officially, in the early afternoon. Spencer Dinwiddie (knee), Nicolas Claxton (health and safety protocols), James Harden (hamstring), Chris Chiozza (wrist) and Alize Johnson (health and safety protocols) are out.

Abdel Nader is out. Jae Crowder is day-to-day.

The game

Brooklyn won the first one in February.

Y'all down for an early trip to the Vault?! I saw this really nice oral history from Mike Mazzeo of The Ringer on the Suns v Nets double overtime classic from 2006 and yes it's still as bananas now as it was way back then

You can also read an oral history of the game, written by Mike Mazzeo, on The Ringer.

Speaking of legendary point guards, Chris Paul will be running the show for the Suns this afternoon. In any other year, CP3 would have a really great campaign for MVP going. He won't win it, but he's been mesmerizing nonetheless. He's developed a great chemistry with DeAndre Ayton and his vision plus decision making have allowed the Suns to be a top ten offense in the sport. As we saw in the first matchup, he can carry his team down the stretch of a close game and go shot for shot with the league's very best scorers.

On the other side stands Kyrie Irving. Kai has been the guy in charge for Brooklyn, and he's kept the squad in contention while the other parts of the Big Three heal up. The shot wasn't there for him on Friday, but like all great players he found a way to do everything else as his passing and defense (?!) kept his former team at bay. Irving has played at an All-NBA level when he’s been out there this year and now that he’s the feature attraction, he’ll draw the majority of the opponent’s attention. He’s managed to take that attention and keep his teammates involved and in good vibes. When he sits, the new guy will run things. Mike James made his Nets debut on Friday and played a healthy 21 minutes. With the roster being as shorthanded as it is, he’ll definitely get a workout in these next few games.

This could be a night for the Nets to push the pace more than usual. Phoenix plays at the seventh slowest pace in the league, is near the finish line of a daunting, and have a bar room brawl awaiting them at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. If Brooklyn can push it, they might tire the Suns out.

It’s Oscars night (in April) and the trio of KD, agent/manager Rich Kleinman, and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley are up for an Oscar for the film they produced, “Two Distant Strangers.” If they win, they’ll join Kobe Bryant as hoopers turned Oscar winners. The Academy Awards begin at 6:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

We mentioned DeAndre Ayton earlier, and the big fella has been putting together his best professional season. As you’d expect with Paul on the team, Ayton’s usage rate is down some but he’s made up for it by doing a good job of protecting the rim on defense and being one of the leading rebounders in the Association this year. He’s gotten a lot more shots inside of three feet and he’s cashed them in at a 76.3 percent clip, the best of his young career. The Brooklyn big rotation of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Jeff Green will look to keep him off the boards as much as possible. Griffin as backup five has been a godsend for Steve Nash and has shocked just about everyone that isn’t employed by the Brooklyn Nets with how great he’s been.

Player to watch: Devin Booker

When it's title time, you need a player you can give the ball to when you need a bucket on command. Booker fits that requirement and then some. He's been one of the best scorers in the league since he came in from the University of Kentucky in 2015. As the Suns have climbed from mediocrity to title contention, the journey for Book has been especially daunting. He recently spoke about it and said:

“I always look back.I don’t ever want to take anything for granted after what I’ve been through. Any win is hard to come by, so we try to stay locked in, no matter what our record is. We are trying to stay in pursuit of continuously getting better and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

It’s been a fight to get here and I imagine Book is gonna go bananas when the playoffs start.

He has been on a bit of a cold streak recently. Over his past six games, he’s only averaging 18 points a night on a .375/.179/.862 shooting split. The Nets can’t assume that his cold streak will continue so they’ll need to be prepared to make life as difficult for the All Star as they can.

Bruce Brown will get his turn trying to slow Book down. One great thing about Brown is he provides the team with an instant jolt of energy as soon as he enters the game. He’s carved a great role out for himself and serves as a defensive stalwart in the Brooklyn backcourt. Landry Shamet will get the start this afternoon. When big names are out, the other guys in the rotation have to step up and expand their repertoires. Shamet has done more handling the ball, driving to the rim, and creating offense since Harden x Durant were out and that will come in handy for the Nets come playoff time. Shamet’s three point shooting has been one of the best parts of his recent resurgence and with him confident, firing from all cylinders, and more diverse in his attack, it’ll make Brooklyn’s offense even more dangerous when everyone gets back.

From the Vault

Yesterday afternoon, a memorial was held at Barclays Center celebrating the life of the late, great DMX. Let's celebrate the Dark Man with a quick trip back to 1998.

And also rest in peace to Shock G.

More reading: Bright Side of the Sun