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Nets return home for matchup with the Grizzlies ... without Ja Morant

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to see if Brooklyn can build some sustained momentum. They certainly laid the foundation for doing so in thrilling fashion vs. Portland on Thursday night, wrapping up their West Coast swing with a 109-107 win that left just about everyone feeling good. The win featured Ben Simmons’ strongest performance of the young season, Joe Harris getting hot (though subsequently cooling off) from three, and Yuta Watanabe continuing to prove his mettle as a valued rotation player. Best of all, the Nets gutted out the win despite a subpar fourth-quarter from Kevin Durant. Being Kevin Durant, he still finished with 35 points, despite a crucial missed free throw and untimely offensive and defensive fouls all within the last minute.

Let’s dive into Ben Simmons’ performance for a minute: His largest area of value-added was getting Brooklyn into early offense, something that’s been a trend throughout the season, despite his struggles. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nets are in the 70th percentile of transition possessions with Simmons on the court; that drops to the 48th without him. Yes, the line is blurry. What gets captured as a transition possession vs. a half-court possession in data-tracking can be pretty subjective. But the eye-test backs the numbers up, and it was on full display vs. Portland, and not just with this throw-ahead for a KD dunk:

With it being much easier for defenses to hone in on Durant in the half court - pressure points to double from, how the next rotation gets made - pushing the ball up the court unlocks more flow for Brooklyn’s offense. These clean looks at three-pointers exemplify such:

It’s worth mentioning Simmons was engaged on defense as well, often making plays in help, but the most encouraging play of the night came in a half-court set:

That is the play Nets fans have been waiting to see - Portland switches a smaller defender, Justise Winslow, onto Ben in order to avoid giving up an open three, so he takes Winslow to to the block and posts up for an easy two.

Simmons was a thorough positive on Thursday night. That’s the first time we’ve said that all season. Two good outings in a row would constitute a major step in the right direction, progress that we knew would take some time but is no less welcome to see. Ben Simmons and the Nets will get that chance on Sunday night, when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies at home.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and the YES App have the telecast, while WFAN-FM has the radio call. We’re back to normal tip times, folks, as this one is scheduled for start at 7:00 p.m. ET, from the Barclays Center. Not 7:30 p.m.


After previously being listed as questionable, Kyrie Irving is back from his indefinite suspension. All in all, Uncle Drew ended up sidelined for eight games. T.J. Warren and his recovering foot remain out, definitively. It also appears that Nic Claxton (family issue) will miss tonight’s contest.

Memphis’ injury report is much longer, and does not formally include their starting backcourt of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, each of whom gave the Nets 38 in their last meeting. An ankle and a toe, respectively, have those guys out for at least a week or two.

The game

It’s hard to know what to make of this one, given how depleted the Grizzlies will be when they stroll into Brooklyn. You’ll see a lot of role players acting as main characters, especially if Dillon Brooks does indeed miss the game. Tyus Jones was sneakily a top-15 point guard in the league last year and by far the NBA’s best back-up floor general, so he’ll step into the starting role and is not to be taken lightly. Rookies Jake LaRavia and David Roddy are two effective rookie wings that figure to get heavy burn, as well. We may even see everybody’s favorite undrafted free agent, Kenneth Lofton, Jr. (no, not his son).

But for the first time in a few games, much of which had to do with Irving’s absence, the Nets will definitively have more talent on the floor when the ball is tipped on Sunday. Which is why protecting the defensive glass is paramount. In Brandon Clarke and Steven Adams, the Grizzlies have two very different, but very effective offensive rebounders that have the potential to give Memphis the possessions they need to close the talent gap. Clarke is a mess of long limbs with a boundless vertical that necessitates consistent boxing out. Adams, meanwhile, has the potential to disregard any box-out he sees with an elbow and a massive frame doing the dirty work. Who needs to jump?

That is the matchup for Nets fans to watch, though. Yes, it’s the NBA, and yes, teams with nothing to lose are dangerous on the road. Young gunners like LaRavia, Roddy, and sophomore Santi Aldama won’t be afraid to chuck up a combined 20 three-pointers, and may get hot. With that being said, Memphis shouldn’t have the firepower to stick around with an equal opportunity. They’ll need advantages in the possession department, and Clarke and Adams are just the guys to accomplish that.

This smells like a classic trap game. Brooklyn is coming off the win of their season, returning to their families after a week away from home. Memphis is a good, if not great, team, and their whooping of the Nets is not so far in the rearview mirror. Kyrie Irving is back. And suddenly, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane get injured and Jaren Jackson Jr. is ruled out. Some psychological letdown is inevitable. Regardless, this is still an athletic team (just not supernaturally so, without Ja) with a point guard more than capable of running the show and creating clean looks vs. a defense that, quietly, is fairly unequipped to defend that position while Ben Simmons works back into form.

Brooklyn’s energy in the first quarter will tell you all you need to know about this one. It would be nice if the story has a clean beginning.

From the Vault

Any excuse to remember the greatest speech in NBA history. I’ve timestamped Durant’s words to then-teammate Steven Adams, who he’ll see once again on Sunday, but the whole thing is more than worth the occasional re-visit. It’s hard to exit the tab dry-eyed.

One other thing. The Nets will be debuting their home Basquiat jerseys tonight...

Further reading is at sister site Grizzy Bear Blues.