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Nets come home to face Bucks

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Milwaukee Bucks v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

I want you to put the word out there that we back up. Understand me? We back up. After another dreadful half of basketball, the Brooklyn Nets looked disjointed and on their way to their fourth straight bad loss. However, the switch got flipped. Powered by a fully engaged defensive effort and unstoppable offense, the Nets snapped their three game losing streak and came away with a much needed victory on Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers. After this, they’ve got a mini adventure coming up.

The opponent tonight is one we know real well around these parts. The Milwaukee Bucks have been humming along as they look to shore things up and be ready for their title defense this postseason. They lost on Wednesday night to the Toronto Raptors and find themselves third in the East standings. This is the first night of a back-to-back and start of a weird three game road trip. They’re in Charlotte for a two game set against the Hornets tomorrow and Monday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and ESPN on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30 PM.

Injuries

Joe Harris is out. Home game so no Kyrie Irving. We’ll talk more about him in a second. Langston Galloway’s second 10-day hardship exception ran out Thursday ... and he signed a new one with Milwaukee! So he’s switching sides tonight.

Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, George Hill, Pat Connaughton, Semi Ojeleye, and Jordan Nwora are in COVID protocols. Coach Mike Budenholzer is as well so Darwin Ham is coaching tonight. Our old friend Brook Lopez is out as he recovers from back surgery. Donte Divincenzo is out with a left ankle sprain. Giannis Antetokuonmpo missed Wednesday with a non-COVID illness. He’s listed as probable for tonight’s contest.

The game

Milwaukee took the first meeting on Opening Night.

Irving’s return helped provide a jolt and helped show just how dynamic the Nets offense can be when they’re 100 percent. It took him a few minutes to knock off some rust, but he looked his old self and finished with a silky smooth 22 points on 9-17 from the field along with four assists and three steals in 32 minutes. What really stood out was how much faster the Nets looked with him playing. The ball was humming, there weren’t many dead spots (at least after halftime), and gave us an early taste as to what a smallball lineup will look like in the near future (special shout out to DeAndre Bembry for his role as well). Irving helps take an already solid Nets offense and makes them unbeatable. His ability to get downhill and finish over defenders makes He’ll be back in a few days and we’ll see how the coaching staff manages his workload. He clocked in at exactly 31:59 and best guess is that’s where he’ll stay at for the time being.

Opportunity is always knocking, and with Holiday in protocols along with the other guards on the injured list, Langston Galloway will get a big opportunity to make a statement. He was with the Nets for a bit and acquitted himself well. He’ll get more playing time with the Bucks and he hopes to make a good name for himself on the national TV stage.

The center position for the Bucks is very thin right now. With Lopez out, the team recently signed DeMarcus Cousins to a ten day contract. By all accounts, it looked as if things were going reasonably well, but due to salary cap and luxury tax concerns, the team waived Boogie following Wednesday’s game. Bobby Portis will start at center and he’s performed admirably in his role. Even with all the uncertainty in the frontcourt, they’ve been one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA this year.

The duo of Nic Claxton and LaMarcus Aldridge will try to take advantage of the Bucks inside. Clax gradually got better as the game went on Wednesday and as long as he continues to play big and make the most of his minutes, he’ll establish himself as one of the most important players for the Nets. LMA came off the bench and was automatic as he went 6-7 from the field as his bevy of elbow jumpers and post moves gave the Nets some inside presence. They provide contrasting styles which allows the Nets to morph into whatever is needed for a particular night. If you need to switch everything, turn to Clax. A more traditional opponent? LMA can make it happen.

With apologies to Steph Curry, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid, we’ll be watching the two best players in the sport tonight. Giannis has been missed time thanks to protocols and this most recent non-COVID illness, but he’s been on fire recently. He’s shot over 50 percent from the field in each of his last six games and is shooting 73 percent from the free throw line in that same time frame. I imagine someone’s gonna break out the free throw clock at some point, for old time’s sake! But in all seriousness, Antetokuonmpo has continued to establish himself as one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen and his ability to demolish any defense in front of him will pose major problems for the Nets.

On the other side, Kevin Durant is feeling good after one of his best games of the year. He had a masterful 39/8/7 on 15-24 from the field. It was a return to form after a frustrating homestand in which he wasn’t bad per se, just not his usual MVP self. It happens. With the Bucks so shorthanded, we’ll see who gets the matchup tonight.

Player to watch: Khris Middleton

The past year has been pretty great for Middleton. He and his wife welcomed another child into the world, he helped bring the chip to Milwaukee, and to top it off he won a Gold Medal in Tokyo. His turnovers are up and shooting percentages down a bit, but he’s still been effective as he’s taken on more offensive responsibility this season. Middleton is someone you can trust with the rock late in games with the expectation that he’ll be able to get a good shot up practically every time down the court. His play helps take some pressure off Antetokuonmpo and give Milwaukee another reliable option when the pressure is at its highest.

James Harden will look to get more shots tonight. He had his second lowest single game usage rate this year on Wednesday against the Pacers, but he helped coordinate the Nets offense and help keep things organized as they mounted their comeback. Most importantly, he only coughed it up three times in his 40 minutes of play. It doesn’t matter how great your offense is, if you turn it over a bunch, you’re not going to reach your full potential. For Harden, his job is to keep the tempo up and make sure that he’s attacking downhill and putting as much pressure on the opponent as possible. With the Bucks backcourt shorthanded and the team having to hit the road for a tough weekend set in Charlotte, Harden should attack early and often.

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