With just 96% of the season left, the Brooklyn Nets are on pace to finish the regular season with a dreadful 27 wins after dropping an eye-popping contest in Memphis on Monday night. Is it too late to tank for Victor Wembanyama? The 134-124 defeat to the Grizzlies was marked by outrageous performances from Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, and the aftermath has been marked by the return of a familiar friend: panic.
Well, at least some. We’re already seeing data, Jerry. DATA! Really, there should be a moratorium on using numbers until we’re eight games into the season. If the Nets make their first three outside shots on Wednesday, they’ll jump from 22nd in league-wide three-point shooting to 17th. One more and they get to 16th. It’s all pointless right now. Sure, the lineup data shows, in no uncertain terms, the Nets starters are struggling right now. That Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton are off to an awkward front-court partnership. It also shows that Kessler Edwards is outscoring Kyrie Irving on a per-minute basis thus far.
Of course, there is some insight to be gleaned from the first week of season. It was widely thought this year’s Portland Trail Blazers were a lipstick-wearing pig, the Lillard-McCollum era repackaged. It is already clear that their roster changes were not merely cosmetic - the chaotic, athletic energy on the wings is a stark change from what guys like Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu brought. The impact of that on Portland’s ultimate ceiling, though? TBD.
Which means we sure as heck haven’t gotten answers on the ceiling-defining questions facing the Nets. We all know what those questions are. How close can Ben Simmons get to the best we’ve seen from him? Can he fit, offensively, with Claxton? How does Brooklyn respond to adversity, how much will this team gel? None of those questions have answers that take 12 quarters to figure out, certainly when the centerpiece of them is only up to his third real game in 16 months. All we have, so far, are some clues.
The loss to Memphis hurt, in part because wasting 74 combined points from Irving and Durant feels like just that, a waste. But it happens. Memphis, eager to come home two days after getting throttled on the second night of a road back-to-back, shot 47% on three-pointers. Morant and Bane went 12-17 by themselves, and most of those looks were capital-T Tough. Brooklyn did not get the benefit of the whistle. Such is the NBA. As with most games, I rewatched and complied a Twitter thread of my observations here, finding that, while far, far from perfect, the defense was not as bad as a 134 spot may suggest.
Watching Nets-Grizzlies, will clip interesting finds in this thread, although my guy @MattBrooksNBA already has a great thread up on the game— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 25, 2022
The great thing about the NBA is that there’s always a next game, and it comes very soon. Wednesday and Thursday constitute a cross-city back-to-back for the Nets against Milwaukee, then Dallas. That’s right, Giannis and Luka across 24 hours. A 1-4 start isn’t out of the question for Brooklyn. As panicked as the mood could get by Friday morning, we still won’t have answers to the important questions. We will have more clues, though. Those clues have been more encouraging than a 1-2 start (against three really good teams) would indicate. So let’s get to previewing Wednesday’s game against the Bucks, shall we? Just remember to breathe.
Where to follow the game
We have our first double-dip of the season! It’ll be nationally televised on ESPN, but YES Network and the YES App will also be broadcasting the game. Meanwhile, WFAN-FM will once again have the radio call. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Seth Curry and TJ Warren remain out as expected, rehabbing their respective injuries. Markieff Morris will miss his second straight game dealing with a personal matter. The Nets have not given an update past Wednesday for either Curry or Morris, so as of now, neither has been ruled out for the second half of the back-to-back, which will take place on Thursday, against Dallas, in Brooklyn.
As for the Bucks, they are dealing with three unavailable players themselves, three wings all riddled with fairly long-term injuries. Pat Connaughton (calf) and Khris Middleton (wrist) are not expected to be re-evaluated until mid-November. And veteran Joe Ingles, still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last January as a member of the Utah Jazz, is not expected back until close to the All-Star break.
Milwaukee is well-rested, last having played on Saturday. They likely didn’t need all three off days, though, to recover from the absolute flogging of the Houston Rockets they laid down. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 44 points on 17-21 shooting in just 28 minutes of action. The highlights are what you’d expect, albeit surprising that YouTube hasn’t flagged it for child abuse yet.
And that’s about it for the Bucks. Their victory over the Rockets was the only game they’ve played since a season-opening win, snagged out of the jaws of defeat, on the road in Philly. They are the only team to have played just two games. And, largely due to injury, they look a little different to start the season.
Milwaukee’s starting lineup consists of three guards, Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, and old friend Jevon Carter (who the Nets are paying this season), and two behemoths, Giannis and old more-than-a-friend Brook Lopez. You may remember that from when these teams faced off in the preseason, but you would also be forgiven for immediately wiping the preseason from your brain when it ended.
Despite lineup changes, the Bucks are still the Bucks: hellbent on preventing shot attempts at the rim and completely nonchalant about allowing non-corner threes. Fun fact: Milwaukee has given up the most non-corner threes four seasons running, per Cleaning the Glass. Last season, 32.2% of the shots they gave up were above-the-break threes. The Knicks, who gave up the 2nd-most such shots, were closer to the 15th-ranked team than they were to the Bucks. The boldness of Milwaukee’s defensive scheme cannot be overstated.
It is also a reason why Brooklyn is much better suited to match up with them this year, at full-strength. For all intents and purposes, the Nets lost to the Bucks in 2021 because their stars got injured. That offseason, they brought in aging, lumbering big men, and all of a sudden, Milwaukee had a different class of athletes. This season, though, Brooklyn could stretch that defense past its limits. A lineup of, say, Irving-Curry-Harris-Durant-Simmons is asking for trouble defensively, but may be worth it against this team. And it’s not like O’Neale can’t shoot, nor Warren, should he be healthy enough to play. Sub those two in for Curry and Harris, and the team isn’t quite microscopically small.
If you want to look down the road, that could be the ultimate Simmons-at-the-5 matchup. Does Brook Lopez guard Ben, sagging all the way into the paint and allowing him to run easy handoffs with whoever he pleases? Does Milwaukee have to take their defensive anchor off the court?
Of course, “down the road” is many rocky miles away. But Wednesday night could be the first glimpse of Simmons playing the 5, surrounded by shooters. Philadelphia 76ers fans will tell you that’s not the cure-all it may seem to be, and they’d be right. But we heard repeatedly this offseason that the Nets were eager to try it. So far, we haven’t seen any of that eagerness:
Simmons has played 97% of his minutes next to a non-shooting big, a lot of that off-ball. If you were trying to minimize his abilities and maximize his liabilities, not sure you could outmatch what Steve Nash has come up with so far— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) October 25, 2022
That’s what I’ll be watching for, matchup wise, on Wednesday night. Do we finally get our first taste of Simmons at the 5? With Day’Ron Sharpe struggling big-time on defense, vs. this opponent, the answer may be yes. Other things to watch out for include an Irving-Holiday matchup. Now that never disappoints.
Player to Watch
Monday night’s player to watch was an obvious choice: Ja Morant. He had a mere 38 points and nearly as many highlight plays. Let’s see if Wednesday night’s obvious choice can match Morant: Giannis Antetokounmpo. It wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest if Brooklyn is in the middle of facing the three guys who will finish as the top three vote-getters for this season's MVP. The storylines are set up for all three of them, and I’m not sure you could have more diverse skillsets for three MVP candidates.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, though, may have the toughest skillset for Brooklyn to deal with, and that is pure strength and force, attributes which the Pelicans used to tank the Nets in the season-opener. Of course, the Bucks are far different than New Orleans, and Giannis’ doesn’t exactly have teammates as physically imposing as, say, Zion Williamson does. Take a look at this video from the preseason:
Giannis switches off Simmons and is greeted by Nic Claxton, 6’11 with tree-branch arms. He sizes up to attack and would you look at that? Simmons is waiting in the paint; to the left is O’Neale, already with a foot in the paint. So he drives to the right, where seven-foot Kevin Durant is waiting in help, coming up with a steal. Brooklyn has the exoskeleton of a defense that can contain, if not stop Giannis. We’ll see how hard they make him work on Wednesday night.
From the Vault
Hmmmm. Too bad nothing memorable has happened between these teams lately. Oh! I almost forgot the legendary matchups that occurred between 2013-2015. There were, of course, the Joe “Jesus” Johnson game-tying and game-winning shots in that same overtime contest. In 2015, there were two separate triple-overtime games between these teams, which they split.
And because I sense Nets fans may be in the mood to laugh at someone else’s misfortunes for a change, here’s the most memorable highlight from either of those contests, in the game they lost. It’s always a good time to remember Brandon Knight’s shocking missed layup:
Poor Knight, everybody forgets he hit a game-tying three with 12 seconds left in double-OT. Oh well.
For further reading, visit Brew Hoop.
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Milwaukee Bucks Game Notes - Milwaukee Bucks
- History not on Nets’ side as they try to contain Giannis, Bucks - STATS
- Brooklyn visits Milwaukee after Antetokounmpo’s 44-point game - AP
- The delicate Ben Simmons balancing act facing Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets must find a way to make Ben Simmons fit - Barbara Barker - Newsday
- After Nets offseason drama, all is quiet — and focused — in Brooklyn - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- How have Kawhi, Dame and other NBA stars looked in their return to the court and what’s next? - The Athletic
- Jevon Carter’s feverish offseason work put him into Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup - Jim Owczarski - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel