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Nets come home to face Lakers in national TV showdown

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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

A frustrating night at the office. The Brooklyn Nets had their chances to end their four game road trip with a 3-1 record, but bad defense, bad luck, and bad officiating conspired against them as the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled away in the fourth quarter to hand Brooklyn the loss on Sunday night. They’ve got a back-to-back set before getting right back on the road.

The opponent tonight will be the Los Angeles Lakers. For everyone who thought the Nets were drama filled, they pale in comparison to what’s going on with Frank Vogel and friends. To put it kindly, LA hasn’t played up to expectations all year and find themselves at a crossroads. They took a tough loss on the road to the Miami Heat on Sunday night as their furious fourth quarter rally came up short. The Grammys are postponed, but the Lakers are still on the Grammy road trip and have three more dates to go before returning to Los Angeles. COVID sucks.

Where to follow the game

TNT on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30.

Injuries

No Kevin Durant. Joe Harris has had flareups in his recovery from surgery, so his return might come later than expected. Nic Claxton is making progress and hopes to be back soon, and is listed as questionable. Kyrie Irving is ineligible.

Anthony Davis is getting close to making his return from his MCL sprain and is officially listed as probable. Kendrick Nunn is out with a right knee bone bruise. Sekou Doumboya is in health and safety protocols.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting on Christmas.

Hey man, why the hell do people keep listening to Kurt Rambis?! He has been involved with team ownership and has reportedly been calling for the team to go back to using two bigs in a more “traditional” approach. The man hasn’t shown himself to be a person that is successful when put in positions of power so god knows why Lakers ownership is listening to him.

When you’re on the hot seat, you can’t afford to take too many losses. Even worse, you CAN’T take a bad loss on national TV with everyone watching. LA’s next three games are on national TV, but luckily it sounds as if Frank Vogel is safe for at least the rest of this season. Don’t get comfy tho.

Through it all, LeBron James has been the one man that has kept things afloat in LA. He can shapeshift into any role imaginable, and after Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic, Vogel said:

“He’s the most unique player in the history of the game. We won a championship with him playing point guard two years ago, he’s been a ball-handling wing throughout his career and he’s been playing center for us, you know what I mean? It’s just pretty remarkable. And for him to be doing it at this stage of his career is even more remarkable, he just continues to get the job done, and he’s had 25 or more in every single game since Anthony has been out, and it’s been a big part of every single win during that stretch.”

I see no lies here. Bron can do everything in the world and as long as he’s playing, the Lakers will be a threat. His three point shot hasn’t been there in the past two games, but he’s been on an absolute tear in January as he’s averaged 30 points, eight rebounds and five assists a night on a .502/.304/.722 shooting split. He’s locked in and will be hell to handle.

No one can really defend the old man, but Kessler Edwards will try. Edwards has done a wonderful job since being inserted into the starting five and the more reps he gets, the more confident he gets and the more it becomes impossible to pull him from the rotation once the big guns get back.

Can’t forget this

It’s never easy to play without Kyrie Irving and now that KD is out as well, the Nets will have to figure out who slides up a role to help keep the lights on. Patty Mills is the leading contender and after a rough stretch in early January, has turned it around over the past two weeks. The Lakers three point defense has sprung a leak over the past five games as they’ve allowed their foes to shoot 38 percent from deep, third highest in the league.

Normally, you want to ease your way back into action when you’ve been out for a few months. Unfortunately for Anthony Davis, he’s rejoining a Lakers team that’s fighting to hang on to a playoff/play in spot. Davis helps solve their center problems and take some of the burden off of James’ shoulders. Don’t expect too much from AD tonight if he plays, but in about a month he ought to be back to his elite form.

Honestly, DayRon Sharpe probably should have been in the game right after LaMarcus Aldridge fouled out on Sunday. Sharpe did good work on the boards and held his own against Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns. Of all the players on the back-to-back, Sharpe might have the toughest job of them all. He’s got Nikola Jokic waiting for him tomorrow night. Learn by doing and what better way to learn than going up against three of the best bigs in the sport.

Year of the Tiger

The Nets will celebrate the Chinese Lunar New York tonight as well. It’s the Year of the Tiger The Tiger is known as the king of all beasts in China. The zodiac sign Tiger is a symbol of strength, exorcising evils, and braveness. Exorcising evils? Sounds about right.

Player to watch: Russell Westbrook

It’s never fun when you get blamed for everything going wrong. Westbrook has taken arrows from all angles as he hasn’t had the best start to his LA homecoming. Katie Hendl wrote about Russ and said:

When Westbrook dunked on Rudy Gobert this week it was almost embarrassing, how laid bare he became, because of how much he meant it. From his knuckles going white on the rim where he held on, to the near complete erasure of Gobert even as Westbrook moved through his body, the taunting afterward, as he prowled up and down the baseline, that got him a tech. There’s that saying, act like you’ve been there before, but for Westbrook who has — many, many times — it was a screaming reminder to everyone watching. It was vintage Russ, brash, unconcerned, oblivious, headily over-the-top, so self-centred he collapsed the entire game for a moment, sent it into the black hole of Westbrook. To go with the farthest thing from grace.

Every season I wait for Westbrook to find the place where he can settle into a team that gets his ups and downs, the long frustrations, his and ours. But what if he’s like those artists, those songs? A breathless, rushing, tactile three to five minutes when he’s on the floor, punching for everything and not giving a shit what doesn’t land. Urgent and collapsing, understanding now better than ever how fleeting perfect scope and monumentality are, how little either might bring you.

Russ is one of the good guys and the hope is he can turn it around. He’s shot better over the last two games and it helps that he’s finally cashing in on his shots at the rim. On the season, he’s only shooting 58.2 percent on shots inside of three feet. Westbrook isn’t a particularly good three point shooter, and if he’s not finishing over and through people, life is gonna be a lot harder for him and everybody else on the Lakers. As the Lakers head into the second half of the season, Westbrook will have to step it up in a major way.

Simply put, James Harden can NOT be playing passive basketball. After Sunday’s game, he explained his night and not taking a shot attempt in the fourth quarter:

“It was just me just kind of being passive and not really attacking how I need to attack consistently. I put that on me as far as not being able to get to the basket consistently like I need to.”

Nope nope nope nope nope. That’s an unacceptable response and performance for an incredible player that we’ve seen carry the Nets to victory on numerous occasions. He has to be better and with the team shorthanded, more is rightfully expected of him. We know how great he is and Nets fans have seen him carry the team for long stretches, so they’re going to need big games out of him the next two nights so they’ll be feeling good as they get back on the road.

From the Vault

02-03 Kobe was out of this world. Love that dude

More reading: Silver Screen and Roll