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Nets host Pacers (again) in desperate need of a win

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Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It feels like we just did this, didn’t we? We previewed Saturday night’s contest vs. the Indiana Pacers with the headline “Nets take on Pacers in attempt to stop early season bleeding”. Well, they host the Pacers again on Monday night, and needing to stop early season doesn’t cut it. Forget a band-aid. They need to worry about getting crushed into pieces by walls that may have already closed in.

After sleeping on Saturday’s loss, I wish I had something more interesting to say. Something to analyze with film, maybe a specific zone that gave the Nets trouble on offense, or a pick-and-roll defense that was a bright spot, that they should rely on more on Monday.

Nope. There’s nothing to analyze, in that regard. The Nets were dead men walking on Saturday, the first time it’s felt quite like that. Their 1-4 record was not reason for total pessimism - they had played well “in pockets”, as Steve Nash had described it, against five quality teams. Brooklyn was certainly in the process of kink-ironing, but nothing that suggested a team that had given up.

Well, against a supposedly inferior opponent with only 11 active players in a game they had to have, Brooklyn laid down on Saturday night. It felt like a funeral, six games in. You would think that seemingly playing in slow-motion would give them ample time to think about their defensive decisions, and make the right ones. It did not.

Will we see any change on Monday night, in round two against the Indiana Pacers? Yes, Kyrie Irving had nearly as many points on Saturday as he did eyebrow-raising quotes in the postgame presser, with 35. Joe Harris looked his best, particularly in taking the ball to the rim, in a year. Kevin Durant will surely be looking to make up for an 8-20 shooting night, and a first half in which he scored 4 points. There may be a pride factor in not letting a rookie have consecutive 30-point nights against them.

None of that will matter, though, if the effort and attitude remain the same as they were on Saturday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and the YES App will be broadcasting the game on TV. Perhaps unfortunately, the game will also be nationally and internationally televised, on NBA TV. WFAN-FM will have the radio call. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET inside the Barclays Center.


Seth Curry, who made his (rocky) season debut on Saturday night is out for Monday’s contest, as the team still has a close eye on that left ankle. And in a surprise, the Nets added Ben Simmons to the questionable list, citing knee soreness.

T.J. Warren, as expected, will watch his former team from the sideline once again, as remains out recovering from foot surgery.

The Pacers will welcome back big man and perennial Nets fan trade target Myles Turner his scheduled rest day, as Saturday’s game was the latter half of a back-to-back for Indy. Meanwhile Aaron Nesmith (foot) and T.J. McConnell (knee) are both questionable after each missing the previous game vs. Brooklyn. Daniel Theis (knee) remains out as well.

The game

It figures to be a similar challenge again for Brooklyn, with the exception of Indiana significantly upgrading their rim protection in the form of Myles Turner. This team wants to run and shoot threes; young and fresh legs often allow them to accomplish those goals. Perhaps Brooklyn took their foot off the gas pedal against a soft opponent last time out. Maybe the Nets only did so for a second, but by the time Indiana got scorching hot from three, it was too late to put the cat back in the bag.

Either way, a loss like that resets a team. We are back to square one; look for effort and positivity, then we can worry about schemes. This is the NBA, a talent gap does not matter quite that much, confined to the 450 best in the world. If Buddy Hield walked into your local gym - hell, even if he walked into a good college practice - you would not be able to the difference between him and Steph Curry. If Isaiah Jackson showed up, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was LeBron James.

Buzzwords like “communication”, “connectivity”, and “effort” were the only real difference makers on Saturday night vs. Indiana, and handing the younger, exuberant team momentum on a silver platter was far more meaningful than any perceived talent gap. There are good NBA players on Indiana already, which means they can beat anybody on any given night; they can even make 23 of 46 threes.

Sure, the front office may want to roll over for Victor Wembanyama. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner may be gone soon enough. In fact, on Monday morning, Turner told Adrian Wojnarowski that Lakers should consider trading their first round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for him and Hield. Russell Westbrook, of course, would also have to be in the deal.

“If I’m the Lakers, I take a very hard look at this with the position that you’re in. I know what I can provide for a team,” said Turner, quite straightforward.

Player to Watch

That rookie with a 30-piece I mentioned in the introduction? Benedict Mathurin, Indiana’s lottery pick out of Richard Jefferson’s alma mater, Arizona. Mathurin has been one of the league’s most impressive rookies, perhaps in recent memory. He’s averaging 21 points a game so far. Only Blake Griffin managed to keep that up for a full rookie season in the 21st century. Small-sample size aside, Mathurin has opened eyes, to say the least.

The shot is real, no sample size disclaimer needed. He’s at 43% from deep thus far, and teams are already flying out at him when he catches on the perimeter. The most impressive part of his young career has been what happens in those situations; he attacks the rim with confidence, averaging a shade under six free throws a game. Watch him run and jump and cut for five minutes and it is clear he is an NBA athlete. Mathurin, in just seven NBA games, has made a Pacers rebuild that much more digestible.

As a bonus, try to appreciate what Tyrese Haliburton brings to the table, even if he’s torching the Nets defense on Monday night. Yes, you probably knew who he was even before Saturday night’s game. But as his third NBA season gets underway, Haliburton’s strides have been remarkable. He’s shooting 47% from deep this year after hitting 41% last year. He’s bumped the assists per game from eight to ten. Again, small sample size, but the numbers just match the eye test. Haliburton is on his way to becoming one of the game’s best passers and shooters. He swaggers around the court, jumping for joy and talking that talk. It’s incredibly fun to watch when it’s not happening against your team. Unfortunately for Nets fans, you may have to deal with that two games in a row.

From the Vault

Happier times in Nets world. Happier times. Let’s remember the 2018-’19 squad’s playoff-berth-clinching win in Indiana, where they defeated the Pacers and their abominable jerseys, the cherry on top of one of the most enjoyable regular seasons in Nets history:

Happier times, indeed.

Further reading: Indy Cornrows