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Nets close out April at home vs Trailblazers

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Portland Trail Blazers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

First place, first pick. The Brooklyn Nets went into Indiana looking to take care of business and stay ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the race for the top seed. Brooklyn did that and then some by outpacing the Pacers by 21 points last night.

The opponent tonight will be the Portland Trailblazers. It’s been a curious year for Terry Stotts’ guys as they are fighting to avoid the play-in games. They helped the cause by beating up on the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. Right now, they’re in seventh, one game behind the Mavericks.

Where to follow the game

YES2 Network locally, NBA TV nationally. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

We’ll also gather post-game on NetsDaily Clubhouse. Details to come.

Injuries

James Harden, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Nicolas Claxton are out. Kyrie Irving sat out last night with right groin soreness. It’s likely he’ll be back tonight. Bruce Brown might be back, too. But with Kevin Durant playing 36 minutes on Thursday, look for him to sit.

Only Zach Collins is out for the Blazers.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting in February.

For all the talk of how bad the Nets defense is bad, it damn sure ain’t as bad as the Blazers. Portland is 29th in defensive efficiency as they’re allowing 115.7 points per 100 possessions and are tied for 25th in opponent’s turnover rate. The Blazers defense has been sliding for a while, and over at Blazers Edge, Dave Deckard did a great job chronicling the change and this part stood out:

If there’s a coaching issue here, it appears to be personnel-related as much as scheme-related. There’s no denying that four years ago, the Blazers were very good, maybe great, defensively. They had the same head coach, along with 3 of 5 of their current starters. It’s hard to believe that Al-Farouq Aminu was that much better of a defender than Robert Covington is. The same is true of Evan Turner and Moe Harkless versus Derrick Jones, Jr. and Norman Powell. But the center position isn’t the same anymore. The bench players either lack experience, agility, or defensive chops. Where the possibility of greater frontcourt speed (Harry Giles III) or wing competency (Nassir Little) exists, those players are buried behind veteran players with more cachet who, unfortunately, can’t bring it on the defensive end.

For as bad as their defense has been and for how disappointing they’ve been, they’re only two games away from the fifth seeded Los Angeles Lakers and thus, out of the play in game space.

Kevin Durant is probably gonna get the night off, but damn if he wasn’t a man possessed last night! He scored 42 points on 16-of-24 from the field with 10 assists in those very productive 36 minutes. The minutes were the most he’s played in a game since February 4th against the Los Angeles Clippers. KD is all the way back from his injury and now that we’re coming down to the finish line of the reason

However, the biggest story of last night for the Nets was Alize Johnson! He was out three games due to COVID protocols, but came back and had the best game of his pro career with a 20/20 game off the bench in his 32 minutes of playing time ... against the team that drafted him, then gave up on him. Play like that earns you a spot in the rotation and he’ll be back out there tonight. The consistent thing about the Nets bench is every member of it is ready to step up and fill in at a moment’s notice and provide the team with a bolt of energy.

I think I speak for everyone here when I say we have a soft spot for our old friend Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, so it’s really nice to see him on this Blazers club. Hopefully he gets to stick around for a while and is on their playoff roster.

Can’t believe we got this far in the story without talking about Damian Lillard. Dame had been bothered by a hamstring injury which caused him to miss a little bit of time. Since he’s been back, he’s averaging 23.6 points a night on a disappointing .366/.313/.935 shooting split. If Portland wants to go on a deep playoff run, they’re going to need him to step up and play at the near MVP level he was at earlier in the season.

Assuming Irving is out or limited tonight, the guard duo of Tyler Johnson and Mike James will keep things running. Johnson hit three three pointers as the starter and James handed out seven assists coming off the bench. Brooklyn’s depth has been a (nationally speaking at least) underappreciated part of their story this season and with every guy on the roster empowered and able to contribute, gives Steve Nash and friends the opportunity to rest their less than 100 percent players as much as possible.

Player to watch: CJ McCollum

For as good as he’s been, CJ has never been named to an All Star team. He was well on his way this year until an injury knocked him out for a month and a half. That said, he’s been as excellent as ever and he serves as the perfect secondary scoring option on this team. He can get his own shot, create off the dribble, finish decently at the rim, and carry the offense for stretches at a time.

More Landry Shamet on the menu. Since the All Star break, Shamet has put up a much needed .452/.431/.857 shooting split in 27 minutes of action a night. When you lose a player like James Harden, it’s a beautiful thing to see role players like Shamet do more and exceed in place of the stars.

From the Vault

A little LMA to start your Friday

And also, Thinking Basketball is one of my favorite things on YouTube, and as someone who doesn’t know that much about Bill Walton as a player (I grew up on him and love him as a commentator), so this was a pretty groovy watch...

More reading: Blazer’s Edge