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Nets return home looking to thwart Luka Doncic and the Mavs

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Alright, these have to start turning into wins.

When previewing Wednesday night’s game against Milwaukee, I cautioned that despite a loss in Memphis where they gave up 134 points, things weren’t as bad as they seemed. The opponent simply hit a bevy of tough shots, Ben Simmons looked incrementally better, etc.

My urge is to play the optimist again. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 43 of the Bucks’ 110 points to usher Brooklyn to 1-3 on the season. Sure, there were some defensive hiccups - there were also moments of defensive prowess, particularly when Giannis was not bulldozing defenders out of the way and/or getting to the free throw line. The 2nd quarter, which Brooklyn won 35-18, was their strongest quarter of the season. It even featured an honest attempt at a Simmons-plus-4-shooters lineup, which worked as well as you could hope for. Me and my cadre of Yuta Watanabe believers were well-fed, too, as the Nets were a team-high +12 in his eight minutes. Why it was only eight minutes, that’s anybody’s guess.

I am, of course, not reading the room correctly. Here’s how the Nets’ shot chart looked in the fourth quarter:

It was part of a second half where they shot 1-of-15 from deep, despite getting perfectly satisfactory looks.

None of that feels satisfactory though. It would be one thing if the loss had dropped them to 3-1 on the year. “Sure, they played Milwaukee tough and just got beat by a transcendent superstar and unusually poor shooting one game after scoring 124. It happens.” That’s not quite the vibe, is it? The focus, instead, is on Ben Simmons (shocker) who was attacking the rim in the first quarter before grimacing, grabbing his back, and refusing to do that for the rest of the game. It also has to be on Day’Ron Sharpe and what the heck the Nets are going to do with the rest of their guys that cannot shoot.

It doesn’t feel fair that Wednesday night did not turn into a win. And it’s not like the team is feeling much different than the fans, despite the positive signs that exist:

I wrote on Monday that the Nets could end the week at 1-4. And that no matter how many positive moments there were, 1-4 would feel, at least a little bit, like pieces of the sky were coming unglued, hanging on by a thread if not already crashing towards Earth. Well, we’re one step closer to that reality. Personally, I was encouraged by Wednesday’s performance. But you don’t want to hear that. Luka Doncic and the Mavericks are coming to send the Nets, on the second half of a cross-timezone back-to-back, to 1-4. Optimism may not be the flavor of the day right now, no matter how many flashes of promise there are.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and the YES App will be broadcasting the game; so will NBA TV. WFAN-FM will have the radio call, per usual. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET inside the Barclays Center.


Joe Harris is resting in this first back-to-back of the season. Following the Milwaukee game, Steve Nash announced that Seth Curry and his recovering ankle will remain out for Thursday’s tilt vs. Dallas. The team plans to get him a practice in with the Long Island squad before he suits up for NBA action. Meanwhile, there has been no update on Markieff Morris - it remains to been if he’ll be available on Thursday night. And as expected, T.J. Warren remains out for the foreseeable future.

For the Mavericks, Davis Bertans (knee) and Frank Ntilikina (ankle) are out, which unfortunately means no Latvian or French puns and/or references from Ian Eagle. Tim Hardaway Jr. (foot) is questionable for Thursday after being a late scratch vs. New Orleans on Tuesday.

The game

The Mavericks fell to the Pelicans in their last contest on Tuesday. The Pelicans saw three starters miss the game with varying ailments and still managed to hand the Mavericks a disappointing, yet hard-fought loss. Luka Doncic missed a step-back 35-footer as time expired, which would have won the game.

The story thus far for Dallas has been the arrival of talented big man Christian Wood. At 6’10 with rolling, popping, and isolation ability, he has been a true Robin to Luka’s Batman. Whereas Dallas’ attack last season was largely a my-turn, your-turn (but mostly my turn) situation with Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie alongside Doncic, he and Wood have developed a real two-man game.

Per Cleaning the Glass, lineups featuring Wood and Doncic have outscored opponents by 38 points in just 93 possessions so far this season, scoring pretty much every time down the court. (Seriously, their offensive rating together is 150.5!) How the Nets guard actions between them, and obviously Luka himself, should dictate the game. One would imagine it is some combination of Simmons and Royce O’Neale defending Doncic, unafraid to switch Nic Claxton onto him if there is a screen set by Wood.

Offensively, the Mavericks have just been a nightmare to guard, with the highest offensive rating in the league thus far. I just ranted about the inadequacy of these small sample sizes in data just a week into the season, but it only supports the eye test here. After a summer of Eurobasket competition for Doncic, he’s arrived in shape, and has a new toy to play with. They almost exclusively shoot threes and lay-ups. Even if the Nets weren’t on the second night of a back-to-back, it’s a dangerous matchup. Heavily switching on Doncic and reaching deeper into the bench, prioritizing size (hello, Yuta Watanabe) may be the way to go in this one. Less scrambling on defense, slower possessions, and utilizing what fresh legs Brooklyn does have.

I know, I know. “When does the schedule get easier?” Well, the Nets do play the Pacers twice in a row following Thursday night’s game. So, soon. But largely, the schedule will never be soft. I just saw that highlight of Paul Pierce hitting that game-winner off glass vs. Atlanta. You know, “I called game.” Those Wizards and Hawks teams were each top-four seeds in 2015. On the court for that game-winner? 37-year-old Paul Pierce, Ramon Sessions, Mike Muscla, Kent Bazemore, Shelvin Mack. Yes, John Wall was injured, and no disrespect to any of the players mentioned, but those were two top four teams in the East just seven years ago! Granted, it was the weaker conference, but man. One of the Cavaliers and Hawks, if not both, will probably be in the play-in tournament this season. Just look at their lineups! The NBA has never been this talented, full-stop. There are no off days.

And Thursday night is definitely no off-day for Brooklyn. My last two “players to watch” were Ja Morant and Giannis. Over two games, they combined for 81 points against the Nets. This time, the player to watch is Luka Doncic. Keeping him closer to 30 points than 40 would be a victory, no matter how small. That being said Simmons has given Doncic problems, no matter how slight, in the past.

From the Vault

Spencer Dinwiddie is also liable to go for 30 points against his former team. Because, well, of course he is. The last time he played against Brooklyn, he hit heavily-contested game-winner from deep, moments after Kevin Durant thought he himself had done just that:

You couldn’t help but smile, no matter how painful the loss was, for Dinwiddie in that moment. If it happens again on Thursday, though, I have a feeling Nets fans won’t be in any type of mood other than apoplectic. No matter how many positive moments the game may hold.