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Nets visit Cavaliers in MLK Day matinee

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Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Making statements. The Brooklyn Nets went into Saturday night’s game hoping to get back on the winning side of things after an L on Thursday. They did that and then some with a convincing win against the New Orleans Pelicans in front of the Barclays crowd. They’ll be on the road for the next few days so we’ll see how things shake out.

The opponent this afternoon will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s good to be home and for JB Bickerstaff and friends, and they’re riding high. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night and pushed their winning streak to four games. They’re right on the heels of the Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division, and hell, first place in the Eastern Conference! Shouts to them.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Holiday special so the party’s getting started after 3 PM.

Injuries

Kevin Durant left Saturday’s game with a left knee sprain. An MRI revealed a sprained left MCL. Best guess is he’ll be out four to six weeks. Hope for the best for KD. Joe Harris is still out. LaMarcus Aldridge is still battling right foot soreness. He’s listed as probable. Nic Claxton has been dealing with a tight left hamstring and he’s listed as questionable. James Johnson missed Saturday with a non-COVID illness and he’s out today as well. Paul Millsap is out for personal reasons. Kyrie Irving, however, is available.

Rajon Rondo is out with right hamstring soreness. Ricky Rubio is out for the year with a left knee ACL tear. Collin Sexton is out for the year with a left knee meniscal tear. Lamar Stevens is questionable with left knee soreness.

The game

Brooklyn took game one and two in November.

Without KD, the odds of the Nets grabbing the one seed are a bit longer, but you gotta keep fighting. That’s the life.

Road trip means we get Kyrie Irving all week. Irving has been OK in his return and has made a goal of getting to the rim more often. It’ll help with the spacing and get them more chances at the free throw line. Brooklyn is tops in the Association in free throw percentage and having a career 88 percent shooter from the stripe getting there five to six times a night would be a god send. The Cavs don’t foul very often (second lowest opponent free throw rate in the league) so it’ll be a challenge getting there.

As a guard of the future, Darius Garland is a pretty solid bet. In Year 3, the former lottery pick has stepped up to offset the loss of Sexton and is averaging almost 20 a night with an impressive .467/.370/.918 split. He does a good job attacking the basket and is finishing a lot better at the rim this year (62 percent on shots inside of three feet). Brooklyn will need to stay on him at the point of attack and do everything they can to stay in front of him.

We’ll get a chance to see the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Evan Mobley has adjusted to the NBA game pretty quickly and has averaged 15 points, eight rebounds, and almost two blocks a night in 34 minutes a game. He’s helped the Cavs to the third best defense in the league (by defensive rating) and the best rim protection as well. Finishing over and around the kid will be a tall task for Brooklyn this afternoon.

Brooklyn’s rookies have made names for themselves as well. Cam Thomas poured in 20 off the bench and even hit a catch and shoot three pointer. Thomas becoming a respectable three point shooter will push his game to new heights. We’ve seen that he can get to his spots on the court, can attack downhill and is a pretty decent scorer already. A lot will be placed on his young shoulders, but he’s ready for it. Kessler Edwards is establishing himself as a capable spot up option and rangy defender that makes life hell on opponents. He still has to avoid falling for pump fakes, but he’s young with plenty of energy and has stepped in and acquitted himself well. More will be asked of them, but the kids are alright.

Ultimately, the next few weeks (and the season) will ride on James Harden. He’s been magnificent as of late and has the Nets playing at a tempo and a flow we hadn’t seen from them for much of the season. It all stems from The Beard and with him constantly attacking the basket, he’ll be able to keep the Nets steady. When you’ve got a superstar who can give you 25 and 11 every night, it helps make life easier for the whole squad.

Player to watch: Jarrett Allen

SEND OUR FAVORITE SON TO THE ALL STAR GAME! Our old friend has been absolutely magnificent for the Cavs this season and is a good bet to make his first All Star Game. It’s a great reward for a Brooklyn fan favorite and he’s become a fav for Cav fans as well. Jackson Frank of The Analyst has more:

At times this season, he’s achieved a hallmark of vaunted rim protection: prompting a pass with his mere presence and rejecting whoever receives said pass. He routinely keeps his hands high to deter shots, too.

His tendency to play with active hands extends to his pick-and-roll coverage, where Allen is menacing. It’s also a platform where he showcases his improved mobility, fueled by quick feet and the ability to concisely flip his hips in response to changes of direction.

Cleveland demands much of its big men defensively and he’s proven capable. He can play at the level of the screen to contain drives, operate as the weak-side man to leverage his size and length, and is always maintaining lively hands. Between rim protection and ball-screen exploits, he’s been a certifiably dominant interior defender.

JA has been masterful and watching his continued growth has been a joy to watch.

The Nets big man room has gotten pretty crowded all of a sudden. With Clax and LMA out, DayRon Sharpe has stepped in and done a great job. He finishes pretty well He gives the Nets another big body and someone who can tangle with bruising bigs on the inside. Today will be a great test for him in his development. Having more capable big men is always a good thing and as the Nets ride into the later parts of the year, will have a chance to give everyone a fair opportunity to get some run.

From the Vault

It’s always a joy to revisit the good ole days

And with today being MLK Day (read this wonderful op-ed about Martin and Coretta by Tanya A. Christian), let’s take a trip back to 1967 and watch an appearance he had in Cleveland.

“I want to say to everybody under the sound of my voice this afternoon that you are somebody. Don’t let anybody make you feel that you are nobody. You are somebody. You have dignity. You have worth. Don’t be ashamed of yourself and don’t be ashamed of your heritage. Don’t be ashamed of your color. Don’t be ashamed of your hair. I am black and beautiful and not ashamed to say it.”

More reading: Fear the Sword

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