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Nets wrap up road trip in Minnesota vs. Timberwolves

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Professional all the way around. The Brooklyn Nets took a trip into San Antonio on Friday night to play the Spurs, and after a back and forth contest for much of the night, pulled away in the fourth quarter and walked away with a quality victory. The W put them back in first place in the crowded Eastern Conference standings. After this, they head home for a few days before getting right back on the road.

The opponent tonight will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s been a decent year for Chris Finch and friends as they fight to make it into the playoffs for the first time since 2018. They suffered a bad loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night and have been off for the past few days.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8 PM.

Injuries

No Joe Harris or Kevin Durant, and if James Harden is correct, we’ll be seeing the duo after the All-Star Break. Nic Claxton is still dealing with a tight left hamstring and is listed as questionable. David Duke Jr is back with the Long Island Nets who have a big game vs. Team Ignite, the G League’s development team, at 1:00 p.m.

Patrick Beverley is questionable with a right ankle sprain. Jordan McLaughlin is questionable as he returns to competition.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game in December.

The great thing about Kyrie Irving is that even when he goes on an extended cold stretch, he’s one basket away from turning the tide completely. He started off hot in the first quarter, struggled some in the middle, and finished like a superstar to close things out. He scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and helped power the Nets attack. With Irving, the offense picks up in a heartbeat and he ensures they don’t lose their bearings.

Our old friend is finding his place in the Twin Cities. Over at Canis Hoopus, Gabe Schneider wrote this about D’Angelo Russell:

While he still has his issues when guarding on-ball (not very quick, athletic or strong) he’s improved off-ball, becoming a vocal organizer that keeps other players in check. He acts as a quarterback, getting guys in the right spot and calling out the other team’s moves. Off the ball is clearly the place for Russell. He’s a cerebral player, which helps with his “quarterbacking.” His long arms and good hands also help to disrupt passes/passing lanes.

All praises due to DLo. If Russell is able to continue to be a difference maker on both sides of the ball, he can keep Minnesota in the playoff chase the rest of the way. And perhaps most importantly,

If everything holds to form, the Nets will have plenty of opportunities to cash in. Minnesota is 27th in turnover rate and 30th in opponent’s free throw rate. That particular mix has caused them to be 27th in opponent’s points off of turnovers and 29th in opponent fastbreak points. Getting easy buckets is always a good thing and for the Nets, they can cash in if they maintain their aggressiveness. At the same time, Brooklyn has to make sure to take care of the ball. The Wolves are first in forcing turnovers and points off turnovers.

Anthony Edwards is continuing to progress nicely. The 2020 number one pick has seen his scoring and efficiency numbers jump this year while maintaining the same usage as last year. He’s become a pretty respectable three point shooter and with his ability to finish at the rim, it’s no wonder he’s been one of the best scorers in the NBA this season. He’s also the best quote in the league this year so he’s fun all the way around.

While the New York Liberty are wooing one superstar big, another is staying put. On Wednesday, Sylvia Fowles announced that she’s returning to the Minnesota Lynx for the 2022 season. The Lynx have continued to be a solid playoff contender year in and will be one of the tougher teams to play against in the W.

One of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA this season has been Jarred Vanderbilt. The fourth year big was inserted into the starting five in mid November and has been there ever since. He gives them length, good rebounding, and at only 22 years old, will be a key part to Minnesota’s future.

When James Harden locks in, he takes the Nets up several notches. He snagged another triple double on Friday night, but what helped most was that he kept the turnovers to a minimum. When he’s making the most out of every possession, he puts inordinate amounts of pressure on the opponent and is able to attack from all fronts. He’s even back to taking some midrange jumpers, which is a very welcome development and something he never should’ve gone away from. Use the whole court and watch the results flow in.

Player to watch: Karl Anthony Towns

KAT can do everything on a basketball court. Need someone to create offense from the elbow? He’s got you. Knock down some threes? He’s got you. Get you a basket in crunch time to win you a game? He can make it happen. If there’s one thing he should cut down on, it’s complaining to the referees. It’s a battle you’re never, ever gonna win no matter how hard you try.

The Nets bigs will have a tall task tonight. Assuming Claxton is out again, Day’Ron Sharpe will get the nod to open things up. He’s been a rebounding machine while he’s been on the court, which helps for a Nets team that is middle of the road when it comes to attacking the boards. Sharpe tends to get into foul trouble and KAT is one of the league leaders in free throw attempts, so tonight will be a major challenge for the rookie. When he’s out, LaMarcus Aldridge will step in and space things out for the Nets offense. It took him a minute, but LMA is back to where he was prior to the COVID break. Having a big that can consistently knock down jumpers from all over the court is a huge relief and takes some pressure off Brooklyn’s Backcourt.

From the Vault

Always a good time to revisit one of my favorite scenes from Coming to America.

More reading: Canis Hoopus