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Nets take on Spurs in San Antonio as Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge return

Orlando Magic v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Take the money and run. The Brooklyn Nets continued their road trip on Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, and it got hairy as hell, but they survived and came away with a one point win.

Waiting for the Nets will be the San Antonio Spurs. It’ll be tough, but Gregg Popovich and friends still have an outside shot of getting into the play in tournament this season. They played the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night and won pretty convincingly.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for TV. WFAN for radio. Tip after 8:30.

Injuries

Joe Harris and Kevin Durant are out. Nic Claxton is still dealing with left hamstring tightness, and is listed as questionable. DeAndre Bembry is bothered by back spasms and is questionable. Paul Millsap is out due to personal reasons. More on him in a moment.

Zach Collins and Joshua Primo are in the G-League on assignment.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game earlier this month in Brooklyn.

The Spurs are looking a bit different from when we last saw them. The Spurs made one move as they dealt Bryn Forbes to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Juancho Hernangomez. Hernangomez hasn’t played since December 27th and it doesn’t seem as if he’ll be a regular part of this rotation.

It was announced that the Nets and Paul Millsap are working to find the former All Star a new home. It looked like his acquisition over the summer would help the Nets immensely, but it didn't work out. It happens. He’s barely played in a month. Look for the Nets to try to get something back for him.

The Nets might be able to take advantage of the Spurs’ pick and roll defense. Jesus Gomez of Pounding the Rock went through their defense and wrote:

There are some variations the Spurs can use and should mix and match depending on the opponent, but there really aren’t any magical solutions. Drop coverage has been around for a while, and most offenses have either figured out how to attack it or have a player who can punish it. Because the Spurs have a relatively small backcourt and no truly mobile bigs, they really have no choice but to run it. We are seeing in Portland how playing aggressive in the pick-and-roll without the right personnel goes, and it’s not pretty. So there will have to be more of a concerted effort to execute the best version of drop coverage possible in San Antonio. The primary defenders will have to fight through screens harder, the centers will have to guess if a pass or a shot is coming and react accordingly, and the rest of the team will have to help on the glass.

The Spurs want teams to take midrange jumpers, but teams have cashed in on a league high 45 percent of those jumpers against them. Bad business for San Antonio as this Nets team loves taking midrange jumpers (fourth in attempts and first in efficiency). Styles make matchups so we’ll see who's able to dictate the action tonight.

And you know who loves midrange jumpers? Kyrie Irving! Irving is one of the most creative scorers we've ever seen and it looks like he's got his timing back. He put forth another banner performance on Wednesday as he scored 30 points along with seven assists on 13-23 from the field. When the Nets offense got stuck in the mud while he was on the bench, Steve Nash quickly substituted him back in. It did wonders for Brooklyn having him out there and we’ll see how the coaching staff handles the rotations.

Not to be outdone in the midrange party, here’s former Spur LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA was masterful on Wednesday as he poured in 27 points off the bench. He was hitting elbow jumpers, making magic happen in the low post, and did a darn good job protecting the rim. He’ll face a unique challenge in Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is eighth in blocks and top 20 in rebounds this season as he has done a good job protecting the rim. Opponents are only shooting 55.6 percent on shots inside of six feet against him this season. As a team, opponents are only shooting 61 percent inside of the restricted area against the Spurs, second best in the NBA. It’ll be tough sledding for the Nets on the inside, but they’ll have to keep attacking as much as possible.

DeJounte Murray will look to keep the pedal to the metal. He’s seventh in drives to the rim this season and third in triple doubles as well. He’s an excellent finisher at the rim and will test the Nets bigs at the rim. His three point shot isn’t there yet, so the Nets will try to clog the lanes and bait him into tough jumpers.

Emotional return x 2

Expect a lot of emotion with the game being first game back in San Antonio for Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge. Mills played 10 seasons and won a championship for the Spurs while Aldridge played six seasons in San Antonio. Tribute videos galore, we expect, and maybe a few tears.

The two Nets are averaging better than 13 points apiece this season and have become crucial pieces for Brooklyn.

Aldridge said he’s more excited for Mills than himself, he told reporters. “Definitely, Patty,” Aldridge said. “Championship. He was there for a long time and was a big part of that championship run, so I’m definitely excited for Patty to go back. He deserves it.

“I’m looking forward to going back. I had a great five years there. I learned a lot, I embraced the culture, it fit my personality. So I’m definitely looking forward to going back and seeing everyone and just having fun.”

“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Mills said, admitting he and Aldridge haven’t talked about it much. “There’s obviously been quite a bit going on with our inner circle here on the court and off the court, so my mind hasn’t truly been on it. But I’m sure we’ll be excited to get back there.”

Mills and Aldridge have been teammates now three times, with Portland, San Antonio and new Brooklyn.

Player to watch: Keldon Johnson

The Gold Medalist has brought his success on the 2020 Men’s National Team over to the NBA side. He’s averaging 30 minutes a night and is third in the NBA in three point percentage at 44.6 percent. There have been discussions about what his role is going forward in San Antonio, but it looks like he’s been winning people over. At 22 years old, Johnson has plenty of time to keep growing and developing.

Aye man, this nasty as hell

James Harden had a pretty rough outing in Washington as he missed all five of his three pointers, committed eight turnovers and had that defensive lapse that almost sunk the Nets’ chances of victory. It was the first awful Harden game in a while, but he’s been playing at a very high level in recent weeks so one iffy game was to be expected at some point. One good thing about his game was that he continued to drive to the basket even amidst his struggles. That’s a good sign and as long as he maintains his aggressiveness, he’ll be alright.

From the Vault

Manu Ginobili is a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame this spring. He should be in

And for this future Hall of Famer, San Antonio is always a fun place for him to be in

More reading: Pounding the Rock