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Nets head to DC to take on Wizards

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Houston Rockets v Washington Wizards Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The little things add up. The Brooklyn Nets were in Cleveland on MLK Day afternoon to take on a red hot Cavaliers squad that had won four straight games heading into the game. It was close late, but Brooklyn didn’t do enough to bring it home and wound up taking a seven point loss.

The opponent tonight will be the Washington Wizards. Wes Unseld, Jr has his team looking good in his first year as head coach. The Wiz gave the home fans a lot to cheer about on MLK Day as they came away with a convincing win against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN for radio. Tip after 7.

Injuries

No Kevin Durant or Joe Harris. Nic Claxton is still dealing with his hamstring tightness and is out. DeAndre Bembry was a late scratch on Monday with back spasms and he’s listed as questionable. James Johnson is dealing with a non-COVID illness and he wasn’t on the report, so it looks like he’s back. Paul Millsap missed Monday’s game due to personal reasons and is out tonight as well.

Coaches Unseld Jr and Pat Delany are in health and safety protocols. Joseph Blair is acting head coach for the time being.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting in October. The second game in December was postponed due to COVID. That will be made up before the All Star break on February 16.

This was probably a result of Bembry missing the game, but Steve Nash went with a new twist on the starting five. Patty Mills was in the first five, and it worked pretty decently as he knocked down three from downtown in his 31 minutes of playing time. Spacing is the name of the game and the Nets have to ensure they have as much of it as possible. The team has shot 40 percent or better from deep in three of the past four games. Brooklyn’s three point shooting cratered following their return from the COVID postponements, and if they are getting back to what we expected, their offense will get back to elite status.

It’s been a rocky return to action for former Net, Spencer Dinwiddie. In December, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo reported the team suggested he sit out the first 15 games of the season as he got further away from his December 2020 ACL tear. He powered through it, but recently had to sit as he had a spin in the COVID protocols. He’s back and trying to figure out his role on this Wiz team. One surprising thing about his year is the lack of attacking the basket. He’s only driving to the basket 11 times a game, a far cry from what we got used to in Brooklyn when he was here. Dinwiddie’s a good player and he should be given as much time as he needs to return to his old form.

The Nets might be able to speed the Wiz up. The Wizards are dead last in fastbreak points while the Nets are sixth. On the flipside, the Wiz allow the fewest fastbreak points while BK allows the second most. Turnovers will be essential tonight and one similarity between the two clubs is they don’t turn the opponents over very often. You’re going to need to be careful and maximize every possession you have.

A quick aside: the Wizards’ City Edition jerseys remind me too much of the Kansas Jayhawks. Not a fan!

The Wizards tend to commit their fair share of fouls, and that’s a bad bit of business when James Harden is on the other side. As it so happens, Harden had his worst game from the line this season on Monday as he missed five free throws in a close Nets loss. The Nets need for Harden to maintain his level of assertiveness as he guides the offense. When he’s attacking and looking for his shot, everything becomes easier for him and his teammates.

Chances are, if you’ve been on the internet at any point over the past four years, you’ve probably slandered Kyle Kuzma online. And granted, the Kuz slander is often hilarious. That said, he’s done a real nice job in DC and has stepped his game up in some important areas. He’s averaging a career high in rebounds (21st overall in the NBA) and is doing a better job of passing as well. He’s even played center for the first time in a while, which is a welcome development for him

Having Johnson back ought to help the Nets wrestle with the Wizards bigs on the interior. Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford are some of the better rebounders in the league and will try to pound the Nets. Washington is number three in paint points so Dayron Sharpe, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, and Johnson will have to contest as many shots as possible. On offense, the Nets should attack the paint as much as humanly possible. Washington allows the second highest field goal percentage on shots inside of the restricted area.

Meanwhile, back in New York, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Kendrick Perkins talked about how the Nets other two superstars need to push their teammate into getting the vaccine, with Kendrick Perkins calling out Durant and Harden as “soft.”

No. It’s not going away as some had suggested it would after Irving’s tete-a-tete with reporters after the Cavaliers game.

Player to watch: Bradley Beal

It’s been a weird year for the former All Star. He’s shooting a career worst 29.8 percent from three point range and his shooting numbers have dipped across the board. He’s been one of the better guards in the NBA over the past seven years so there’s still plenty of time for him to get back in gear. Over at Bullets Forever, Lyndie Wood made this interesting observation:

I think the key to making this work for the Wizards is they need another secondary play-maker/high-level passer on the wing or in the front-court to ease the pressure on Beal. I think Beal in this role needs someone to help facilitate the offense when he gets stuck without requiring a total reset. That would hopefully take some of the pressure off of him to make the risky passes that can turn him into a turnover machine. Maybe that player could be Rui, but I think I’d prefer to see it come from a consolidation trade for a player like Sabonis.

Part of me wonders if this comes down to Dinwiddie not quite having enough skills as a set-up guy for Beal to feel comfortable off the ball and if he would adjust with another elite playmaker on the floor to a more traditional style of play for an elite shooting guard. That seems like the best-case scenario for maximizing Beal’s talent: Have him hunt shots off the ball more, and use his newer playmaking ability as a bonus. But he’s the best player on the floor by a big margin and I get him wanting to dominate the ball when there isn’t an elite playmaker to set him up. And it’s not like elite playmakers (point guard or otherwise) are easy to come by.

It’s a fascinating push and pull in DC. In various postgame comments, he’s mentioned that he needs Dinwiddie to be more aggressive and assertive on offense.

Let’s start here so we can get down to other business. Following Monday’s game, Nick Friedell of ESPN and Brian Lewis of the NY Post pressed Kyrie Irving on his non-vaccinated status. Long story short, he ain’t budging right now or possibly ever. For folks that want to see him hoop in New York, the best hope might be hoping either the mandate in NYC changes or he changes his mind and eventually gets vaccinated like Beal did. It’s something we all sort of knew going in, but hearing it directly ought to guide where things go from here. Moving on...

Back on the court, Irving has started to find his rhythm. Irving had his best outing of 2022 on Monday as he scored 27 points along with nine assists and seven rebounds on a silky smooth 12-23 from the field in 37 minutes. With him back, the Nets have another +++ shot creator and when Irving is locked in, the Nets offense picks up a few notches. The ball zips across the court, everyone gets more open looks, and Irving’s ability to finish over any type of defense ensures Brooklyn will get a quality shot every time they have the ball. He and Harden make for an incredible dynamic duo and they can both put constant pressure on opponents and create clean looks for teammates like Mills and Kessler Edwards. The road isn’t easy for Brooklyn, but having a star like Irving here gives them a leg up on the competition.

From the Vault

Happy belated birthday to Sade

and Aaliyah

More reading: Bullets Forever