So the Nets didn’t totally embarrass themselves on their two-game road-trip leading into Thanksgiving. Sure, they avoided playing against Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam and James Harden and Fre... it was a long list, trust me. But after a particularly embarrassing loss against the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers on national TV, Brooklyn was able to rebound against the shorthanded Toronto Raptors north of the border.
The sting of the Sixers loss doesn’t need to be explained, but the worst taste it left in my mouth was one of betrayal. Now, betrayal might be a strong word, but watching Ben Simmons’ teammates leave him out there to die in his return to Philly sure ignited that feeling, for me. Simmons, who’s been for real hooping was the only Net that showed demonstrable levels of “I care about this game”. It was disappointing to see the rest of Brooklyn not show up with the same mindset. Yeah, it’s a team game, but that was his game. More support would have been in order.
Thankfully, more support was in order in Toronto. Kyrie Irving exploded in the second-half, the first of the six halves he’s played since returning from his suspension where he looked like Kyrie. Moreover, the synergy between Kevin Durant and Simmons was on display from the get-go. The offense is much more sluggish when Simmons and Nic Claxton share the floor, yes. But giving Durant and Simmons their own side of the floor to work with does ease some of those problems. This play is a little different, given it’s not really an action, but a spontaneous doubling of KD (‘sup, Nick Nurse), but you can see this dynamic in action:
It’s a 4-on-3 with Ben running the show and decent spacing, all that you can ask for. There was even what’s becoming their signature, a Durant backdoor dunk:
As a bonus treat after the game, we got this incredible sound-bite from Durant, discussing their synergy and Simmons’ growth throughout the still-young season:
If we’re looking for negatives, though:
- The Joe Harris panic-meter seems to be worth monitoring. His missed shots don’t help, but I’ve found him to be more than passable on defense, and still shaking off some rust. But he hasn’t been a positive player just yet. Certainly worth monitoring.
- I don’t know what Cam Thomas is bringing to the table right now. He’s a worse shooter than Patty Mills and Seth Curry, and his porous off-ball defense cancels out the fact that he’s a little better guarding the ball than those two. There’s no reason to play him over Curry/Mills, or Edmund Sumner at this point.
That’s about where we are at, right now, with the exception of Markieff Morris. I’ve been down on his potential to contribute in the long-run, but every time he’s asked to play, which is sporadically, he shows up and makes enough threes and plays hard enough to warrant Jacque Vaughn’s decision. He’s always engaged on the bench. Shoutout to Markieff, doing nothing amazing, but everything solid.
And always remember...
“That’s at every arena. Everybody wants to see our team fail,” KD said Wednesday night. “Nobody likes Ben [Simmons]. Nobody likes Ky. Nobody likes myself. So it might be like that at every road arena. It’s just something we got to deal with.
“A lot of things that probably factor into it. But when NBA fans don’t like it … they really got love for you. It’s just misplaced love, I guess. But we get it. At the end of the day, people enjoy watching us play.”
Where to follow the game
It’s all local, with YES Network and the YES App telecasting the game. WFAN-FM once again has the radio call, with tip set for 8:00 p.m. ET from Indiana’s Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
T.J. Warren: still rehabbing. A ways away. It’s his first trip back to Indy as a Net. Yuta Watanabe: officially diagnosed with a hamstring strain. But he doesn’t seem too concerned, per Nick Friedell: “It’s not that serious ... It’s day to day. We’ll see how long it takes.” Hopefully, that means sooner than later.
Burgeoning Nets-killer Chris Duarte will is doubtful for this matchup with Brooklyn with an ankle injury. Elsewhere for Indiana, Andrew Nembhard (knee) and Isaiah Jackson (ankle) are questionable for Friday’s contest.
Again with these guys? It’s the third time the Pacers and Nets will square off in just 20 games, this matchup consuming 15% of Brooklyn’s season so far. The first two meetings at Barclays Center weren’t admirable from Brooklyn’s end, with them going 1-1 on a back-to-back that felt much more likely to be 0-2 than 2-0. However, that back-to-back doesn't look quite as poor, a month removed. After Brooklyn defeated Indiana on Halloween, the Pacers were 3-5. They’re now 10-7, and while they probably won’t end up with close to 50 wins, it’s not all a fluke.
Myles Turner, perhaps rejuvenated by a little more freedom to expand his offensive game, is still protecting the hell out of that paint. Yes, he occasionally misses out on rebounds due to hunting for blocks. Their defense, though, paints an unsurprising picture. Guards willingly get to the paint against a Swiss-cheese perimeter defense. Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton, and Benedict Mathurin sure know how to move around screens on offense; defensively, it seems they just want their opponents to have the same fun they have. Indiana is allowing the 3rd-most shots at the rim across the NBA. What happens in the paint, though, is a different story. The Pacers are the only defense in the NBA where opponents shoot less than 60% at the rim, mainly thanks to Myles Turner. To be sure, some of this is Rick Carlisle’s team funneling opponents to their best defender. But while 59.5% at the rim is an outstanding mark for a defense, it’s still the most valuable shot on the court. (Stats from Cleaning the Glass.)
Long story short, despite Turner’s shot-contesting abilities, it’s a little too easy to get to the rim against Indiana. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though. How the Nets exploit Indiana on the perimeter is key. Myles Turner’s Atlas impression is only so convincing. Handoffs involving Ben Simmons, off-ball screens for the shooters the Nets are stocked with, and plain ol’ self-creation from Kyrie Irving should be able to compromise the perimeter.
Of course, that’ll all be moot if the Nets come out flat and disrespecting an inferior opponent, again. That shouldn’t be the case, though, considering Brooklyn is looking up at the young gunning Pacers in the standings, and have been outplayed over the course of 96 minutes against them so far, this season. But you never know with this team.
Player to Watch
Tyrese Haliburton, the engine of Indiana’s 8th-ranked offense. My question is who will guard him? This is where the off-season loss of Bruce Brown hurts deepest. In Portland, the Nets turned to Yuta Watanabe to guard Damian Lillard, with firmly meh results. Watanabe won’t be playing on Friday. Royce O’Neale, I suppose, is an option, but he’s firmly better at dealing with size than speed. If Kyrie Irving, in his fourth game back, can commit to the verve with which we’ve seen him guard, say, James Harden in the past, the picture becomes clearer. Ben Simmons has continued to improve defensively, with the lateral quickness re-appearing inch-by-inch. He’ll get minutes defending Hali.
What’s most likely, though, is that the Nets commit to switching, and live with the potential of Myles Turner post-ups on smaller players. That’ll make lineup decisions a bit trickier with guys like Seth Curry, Patty Mills, and Markieff Morris. It would be lovely to see a scheme that relies on situational switching, or if Simmons and Kyrie fight through screens with a passion.
Regardless, the results won’t all be on Brooklyn. Tyrese Haliburton will have some wonderful moments, and the Nets have to just hope he he’s not swishing step-back 30-footers. Sometimes, you get beat, and Hali has the potential to administer a beating.
The Pacers are not to be taken lightly, as Brooklyn should know by now. Myles Turner anchors the paint, they play fast, and shoot tons of threes with capable shooters. Unless they make some trades in the name of tanking, their infrastructure only allows them to be so bad on a given night. Brooklyn will have to earn this one.
From the Vault
I’ve fallen down a Vince Carter rabbit hole these last few previews, and I don't regret it. He is easily my favorite player ever, the result of coming of age as a basketball fan in that sweet spot just after Jason Kidd but before Kevin Durant, both fine choices. Anyway, here’s a game-sealing dunk in Game 5 of New Jersey’s first-round series vs. Indiana in 2005. The series was tied 2-2; Vince ended up with 34 points, 15 boards (lol), and this sweet lefty poster:
Hey, Mr. Carter.
For further reading, head to Indy Cornrows.
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Indiana Pacers Game Notes - Indiana Pacers
- Nets hope effort stays up ahead of trip to Pacers - STATS
- Ben Simmons’ recent Nets success attributed to health, confidence - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Kevin Durant unbothered by rare quiet night as teammates step up - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ben Simmons making great strides toward becoming a versatile force for Nets - Laura Albanese - Newsday
- Kevin Durant on pace to crack NBA’s Top 10 scorers list - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Four Observations: Timberwolves snap Pacers’ win streak - Dustin Dopirak - Indianapolis Star