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Nets head west to take on Trail Blazers

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Take what you can get, and figure it out later. After five straight home losses, the Brooklyn Nets were looking to snap out of their funk and get back on the winning side of things. It took overtime and a whole lot of panic, but they managed to hold on and beat the San Antonio Spurs yesterday afternoon. It’s gonna be a hectic week, but that’s the grind.

The opponent tonight will be the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s been a rough maiden voyage for first year head coach, Chauncey Billups, but he hopes the team can get back on the good foot in a hurry. They’re in the bottom third of the Western Conference standings, but are still within striking distance of the playin standings. They played last night against the Sacramento Kings, and came away with an eight point win in front of the home town crowd. After tonight, they’re heading out of town for a six game road trip.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Late night party so set your clocks for after 10 p.m. ET. In fact, the Nets next two games — vs. the Blazers Monday and the Bulls Wednesday — will both be 10 p.m. starts.

Injuries

No Joe Harris. LaMarcus Aldridge is out with right foot soreness. We’ll see if he plays tonight. And while Kyrie Irving will play in his second game of the season, James Harden (left knee hyper extension) is out.

Larry Nance, Jr is out with right knee inflammation. CJ McCollum is out with right lung pneumothorax. Norman Powell entered the league health and safety protocols Sunday and is out. Damian Lillard is out with abdominal tendinopathy and won’t travel with the team on their road trip but will see a specialist instead.

The game

This is a makeup for the game that was postponed due to Brooklyn’s COVID outbreak.

The Nets love to experiment, and this latest round of experimentation led to the rookies getting some major run. Kessler Edwards got his first extended bit of playing time since the outbreak, helped with the Nets spacing woes and knocked down two 3-pointers. Day’ron Sharpe stepped in for LMA and was working hard on the boards. And Cam Thomas...

That’s how you do. Thomas is back in the Nets rotation and should be there permanently when the roster is at full strength. Thomas in particular gives the Nets another player that can get his own shot and take it to the basket. The Nets need as much of that as possible and for a team that hasn’t had much success from deep recently, attacking the basket and generating less difficult shots is tantamount.

To all y’all asking about minutes, here’s Kevin Durant:

The man wants to play, so he’ll be out there. KD was excellent for much of the game yesterday, but he struggled down the stretch as the Nets fought to survive. He ought to see fewer than 43 minutes tonight so there will be an opportunity to lessen his workload this evening. Robert Covington figures to get the KD assignment and will do his best to make things difficult for the NBA scoring leader.

Nic Claxton played well yesterday afternoon, and tonight he’ll be wrestling with a big ole bear on the inside. Jusuf Nurkic is shooting a career best 55 percent from the field and is averaging 10 rebounds a night. Nurk had 14/16/9 in 38 minutes Sunday night so it’s going to take a team effort by the Nets to slow him down. If LMA is out again, Clax, Sharpe, Blake Griffin, and possibly Paul Millsap will be the ones tasked with battling Nurkic. Claxton will be the first to tell you he still has plenty of room to continue improving, but his recent play has been very inspiring and could help unlock things for the Nets as the season progresses. He had career numbers in minutes (33) and rebounds (14) vs. the Spurs.

The Blazers tend to get foul happy, and that could come in handy for the Nets. Portland has the sixth highest opponent’s free throw rate and for a Nets team that needs as many easy points as possible, the Blazers could be the cure to what ails them.

One noticeable thing about yesterday was the Nets got into their offensive sets a lot faster than usual. It helped that James Harden was more assertive in searching for his shot and using the entire court as he took a few midrange jumpers. That said, turnovers continued to be a Brooklyn bugaboo and Harden was the biggest culprit, coughing it up six times in his 44 minutes. Luckily for Brooklyn, Portland is in the bottom third of forcing turnovers, but that isn’t a reason to let your guard down. We’ve seen on numerous occasions this season the Nets think things are sweet and take their feet off the gas when they shouldn’t.

Player to watch: Anfernee Simons

When opportunity presents itself, you gotta cash in. With Dame and CJ out, Simons has gotten the keys to the offense and has made it happen. Over the last four games, Simons has been a man possessed, averaging 29 points and close to seven assists a night on a .543/.511/1.000 shooting split. He’s been a revelation and will wind up forcing the Blazers to answer some difficult questions. Steve Dewald of Blazers Edge has more:

Simons has the ability to put a team on his shoulders, becoming the primary offensive outlet, creating his own shot and opportunities for others. He’s already a superior defender to Lillard and McCollum, capable of staying in front of opposing guards. Simons also fits well alongside Norman Powell with the pair a clear defensive upgrade on the incumbents.

The problem for the Blazers is that Simons will get paid this summer, so while more minutes directly equate to more production, improved play will almost certainly spike his value. With Lillard, McCollum and Powell collectively slated to earn more than $90 million next season, do you want another guard pulling in big money? Something has to give. One, or possibly two, of McCollum, Powell and Simons will be traded over the next six months. Good luck to the Portland front office.

Woo buddy.

The first day back at work is always nerve wracking. It takes time to regain your rhythm, figure out what’s been going on while you were away, reorient yourself to the speed of the job, etc. For Kyrie Irving, the first quarter in Indiana was the equivalent of a person frantically trying to get to all the emails and voicemails that piled up while they were away. After Irving cleared his inbox, he finished the night with a sparkling 22/4/3/3/1 in 32 minutes. Thanks to all the guys playing yesterday and him not (cause... you know), he’ll probably be out there more than 32 minutes tonight. This week will be a perfect chance for him to get into more of a rhythm as the Nets have a showcase game on Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls and with two earlier losses to them, the Nets are hoping for a bit of a revenge. Irving’s presence gives the team a sense of joy and energy that is hard to replicate and almost impossible to replace.

From the Vault

Welcome back, Klay!

More reading: Blazers Edge