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Nets face Orlando in latter half of back-to-back

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Seven games at home, and Brooklyn started them off the right way. The Nets beat the only Western Conference opponent they’ll see over this stretch, the Portland Trail Blazers, on Sunday afternoon to open up a pivotal stretch of their season with a W.

Right now, it feels like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kyrie Irving is back; the news, as it always does, has cycled on. Ben Simmons has shown enough improvement, even firmly starring as Brooklyn’s best or second-best player for the majority of the past six games, that everybody can take a deep exhale. Hopefully, Simmons doesn’t peak in November, but Nets fans now have visual evidence that, yeah, this guy can hoop. Seth Curry, who scored 29 points on Sunday, is for-real back too. And there is always Kevin Wayne Durant putting on a show.

So...what now?

We’re a quarter through the season, and Brooklyn is a .500 team. Sure, their actual record is 10-11, but they feel like a .500 team, so far. Every opportunity to build momentum is stunted by a loss that feels exactly like the loss that preceded the momentum-building opportunity. When you’re ready to give up and detonate the roster, Kevin Durant goes for 31/5/5 on 20 shots. Brooklyn, at heart, is currently as .500 as they come. The only cosmetic difference is that they have Kevin freaking Durant.

It can’t go on like this for too long. We know that it won’t. The Nets are either a tragedy or a slap-stick comedy, often both at the same time, but never boring. This seven-game home-stand feels ripe for a fork-in-the-road situation. Brooklyn has started it 1-0, and is preparing to face six Eastern Conference foes, four of which they’re currently glancing up at. Are they going to finish the home-stand at 5-2, maybe even 6-1, and re-capture the feeling of lofty expectations? Are they going to go 3-4 with a horrendous loss to the Hornets and re-capture that dread Nets fans know all too well? Are they going to show improvements in the areas that have been dogging them or continue trudging along like the Drummond-era Pistons with more glitter?

I’m not saying Brooklyn is incapable of going .500. It just won’t feel like this, so perfectly average. It will feel like the sky is falling. That’s the likeliest outcome if the Nets are still treading water by 2023. Regardless, the next two weeks of basketball are an opportunity to learn about this team. Destined to disappoint, or worthy of being taken seriously?

A Monday night date with a young Orlando Magic team represents the next chance to further this inquiry. Like the Nets, they’re coming off a Sunday game, having lost, 133-103, to an undermanned 76ers team in Philly. It was their worst loss of the season so far.

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 7:30 p.m. ET from the ‘Clays in Brooklyn.

Tonight is AAPI Night at Barclays Center. That is Asian American and Pacific Islanders . Expect Yuta Watanabe to play a big role in the Nets Unite program.


T.J. Warren is still out rehabbing that foot, but we do have news! Per scoop-guru Shams Charania, Warren is targeting Friday’s contest vs. Toronto as a return date. Surely, this won’t turn into a stressful situation. Elsewhere, Watanabe and his hamstring remain out, with a presumably similar timeframe to return as Warren. And Jacque Vaughn on Seth Curry’s chances of playing in his first back-to-back of the season: “I’m hoping so.” We’ll call that questionable.

Orlando has still not released their injury report for Monday, but it’s sure to be a doozy. *Deep breath!* Wendell Carter Jr. missed Orlando’s Sunday contest vs. Philadelphia, and is out vs. Brooklyn. Markelle Fultz has yet to make his season debut but was considered to have a shot at playing on Sunday, so who knows? Mo Bamba left that game with back spasms. None of Jalen Suggs, Terrence Ross, and Chuma Okeke played vs. Philly but were all listed as questionable for that one, and are “day-to-day” moving forward. Cole Anthony is out with a longer-term oblique injury. Jonathan Isaac may not exist in the physical plane.

The game

Another young, fun team, Brooklyn must make sure to focus on the little things. Rinse and repeat. The lack of defensive rebounding is starting to cloud all other issues. For example, you might not have guessed that lineups with Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton have actually performed at league-average on offense. That’s still not good enough, of course, but it’s workable. The defense with those two on the court, however, has been horrendous. Why? Well, they just can’t get a defensive rebound. According to Cleaning the Glass, Brooklyn is giving up an offensive rebounding rate of 37.4 with those two on the court, which would rival the worst marks ever. It drops a nuke on lineups with Brooklyn’s two lefties.

Simmons with Claxton, Claxton with Simmons, dunker spot, short-roll, it doesn’t matter. None of it matters if Brooklyn can’t get a rebound. That’s part of why it feels like there’s another shoe to drop. We can’t analyze the schematic tendencies of this Brooklyn team to the fullest until the minutiae is taken care of. Too often, the reasoning for a loss is, “they didn’t bring” it, and vice-versa for a win.

Player(s) to Watch

Orlando is bad and injured, but not bad enough to waltz to a win on most nights. Two guys not on that injury report? Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. The 6’10” do-it-all neophytes, along with the sudden improvement of Bol Bol is enough to win games vs. unsuspecting team. And Brooklyn hasn’t earned the right to get blindsided.

The defensive communication must be on-point for Brooklyn. The promise of Orlando’s offense is that it revolves around “jumbo-initiators”, huge players that can dribble shoot and pass. Paolo Banchero may not be elite at anything yet, but he can operate on the short-roll, or post-up, or run a pick-and-roll, or bring the ball up court, and so on. So can Franz Wagner. It hasn’t clicked every night, but there are nights when the vision is clear.

I would be thrilled to see Ben Simmons get the Banchero assignment, who admittedly is still working his way back into form after missing time with an ankle injury.

The reason I’d like to see Simmons defend him is due to Banchero’s physical nature. He seals in the post. He loves the spin move, but it’s a spin that feeds off contact-creation, not avoidance. He’ll hit you with a two-foot finish and burrow his upper-body into your chest while pivoting.

Simmons, for his part, is still missing a bit of the contact-eating tendencies he played with in Philly. It may be the last test for his back. To be clear, he’s done everything asked of him in this young season, having shown major flashes by game 21. But to see him square off against the physical tools of Banchero on the latter half of a back-to-back would be a sweet cherry on top of this last fortnight of basketball.

From the Vault

I know it just happened this spring. The vault on Kyrie Irving’s 60-point performance in Orlando has barely but sealed. But it is incredible to watch those highlights no matter when you do.

For further reading, head to Orlando Pinstriped Post.