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UPDATE: Kyrie out as Nets look to complete season sweep vs Pacers

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San Antonio Spurs v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Grab your tickets because the Brooklyn Nets punched their ticket into this year’s playoffs with a win against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night in Tampa. The win kept the Nets atop the Eastern Conference and ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

The opponent tonight will be the Indiana Pacers. Indy is in the playoff chase, but barely. They had a three game winning streak snapped on Tuesday as the Portland Trailblazers knocked them around by 21 points. The Pacers are in ninth place, only a half game behind the injury depleted Charlotte Hornets.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for the locals. NBATV for the out of towners. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7 PM.

We’ll be entertaining fans on NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game. Join us here: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/join/netsdaily/AYReKyjl/M1zpDzoy

Injuries

James Harden, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyrie Irving and Nicolas Claxton are out. Bruce Brown is out tonight but might be back tomorrow night against Portland. Alize Johnson is back, comes out of health and safety protocols. Nets haven’t discussed the difference in missed games between Perry and Johnson on one hand and Claxton on the other. Brian Lewis reports Thursday that it all stems from the Nets recent trip to South Beach where they spent two nights, one of them Clax’s birthday.

Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Warren, and Goga Bitadze are out. Jeremy Lamb is listed as questionable.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game in February and second in March.

In the Tuesday game preview, we talked about the Nets bench stepping up with Bruce Brown out. Say hello, Mike James! James had a good game by the numbers and perhaps most importantly, he played the entire fourth quarter and did a great job running the show. Joe Harris spoke about James’ impact and said:

“I think Mike has been great, coming in and playing his game. He’s just a good point guard. Being able to get into the paint, create for guys. He does an excellent job driving and finding open guys but he can also get his own shot too. For him to be with us for a week and we’re running plays for him at the end of the game says a lot. The coaching staff and the rest of the guys on the team basically are instilling confidence in whoever we’re playing with allows guys to play with freedom and come out and play their game.”

When you’re able to span the globe, find good talent, and seamlessly plug them into your rotation, it’s a sign you’re doing something right.

We’ve got a back-to-back, so we’ll see how the team handles Kevin Durant. KD played 33 minutes and was magnificent as usual, putting up a 17/10/4/2/2 line while going 5-7 from the field. There isn’t anything he can’t do on a basketball court and the job from here on out is to make sure he stays healthy and is all the way locked in. Just gotta make sure he and every one else makes it to the playoff party in one piece.

The other player we’ll keep an eye on for the back-to-back is Blake Griffin. He’s become a critical player for Brooklyn, averaging 14.2 points a game over the last five, taking charges, hitting three’s and, oh yeah, dunking.

Our old friend is having to shoulder the offensive load in his new city. As a Pacer, Caris Levert is averaging 18.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and four assists in 32 minutes a night. However, he’s doing it on a .435/.272/.787 shooting split. It’s a tough transition to be the focal point of your team’s attack after coming back from injury, undergoing cancer surgery and being on a new team. He’s getting to the rim a bit more compared to his Nets days, which will do wonders for his continued growth and development.

Player to watch: Malcolm Brogdon

Malcolm Brogdon is certainly a good player, but can he do a little bit more? His usage rate has gone up each year he’s been in the league and now that he and Levert are the two best players left, he’ll have to carry some more of the scoring load.

It was only two years ago that Brogdon became only the eighth player all-time with a 50/40/90 shooting split. (Two of the other eight were Kevin Durant who did it in 2012-13 and Steve Nash who did it FOUR times, the most of any player in NBA history.)

This year, Bogdon is having his best scoring year, at 21.5 points per and although he isn’t at 50/40/90 levels, he’s close at 45/39/87. He also at career-high numbers in minutes (34.9), rebounds (5.3) and steals (0.9). He’s been a bit up-and-down. Twice in the last 10 days, he’s had stingers, going 1-of-7 from deep against both the Spurs and Blazers. Against SA, he shot 5-of-20, the Blazers, 5-of-14. He is, in effect, the personalization of the Pacers.

Indy has been a disappointment this season, but a good showing in the play-in games could help them over the long term. They could even wind up as the Nets first round opponent if they survive the play-in. On the other hand, if Indy doesn’t make the playoffs, the Nets get their second rounder. If that happens, Brooklyn will have three second rounders. The James Harden trade didn’t eliminate all the Nets picks.

Shoutout to Kyrie

For as important as he is on the court, perhaps Kyrie Irving matters even more off it. As we reported, there’s a great article by Khaled A. Beydoun in The Undefeated. This quote from Jamad Fiin really stood out to me:

“As a Black Muslim ballplayer myself, who grew up watching Irving play, I love how he’s bringing positive awareness to the religion, because he’s such a big figure. It makes me really proud, and inspires me to not shy from who I am – a Muslim and a Black woman ballplayer, who shouldn’t have to choose between the things that I am and the things that I love.”

When you’re able to reach people and be a shining light for the next generation, it makes everything worth it.

On the court, Irving is coming off of a meh shooting night against Toronto, but he’s been able to contribute in all aspects of the game and make winning plays. Brooklyn has been able to juggle everything thrown at them this season, and Irving’s masterful play has helped immensely.

From the Vault

Early this morning, the Phoenix Suns clinched their first playoff appearance since the 2009-2010 season. That was an excellent squad that were on the receiving end of an all time Kobe Bryant playoff performance.

More reading: Indy Cornrows