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Nets look to sustain momentum in Washington

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

And they have their ‘C’ team to thank for that momentum, as the Brooklyn Nets, led by reserves young and old, are coming off a momentous win. Sure, it may not not stand out on this team’s basketball reference page at the end of the season. No offense to the Pacers, one of this season’s pleasant surprises, but if Brooklyn’s 136-133 victory in Indiana on Saturday night ends up separating the two teams in the better not. And no December win can singlehandedly dictate the course of a regular season.

BUT Brooklyn’s triumph in Indiana can sure be a building block. Led by Cam Thomas, comfortable in his preferred role of lead offensive creator, and buoyed by all eight Nets who played significant minutes, there was nothing mystifying about the win. Jacque Vaughn & Co. did not cook up some brilliant scheme to make up for a talent deficit — although a second-half zone paid major dividends — the staff had a solid game, too. Brooklyn just came out and took it. Simple, really.

Markieff Morris openly called it a “trap game” for Indiana after the win. Patty Mills added, “I don’t think there’s much science to it. It was just all about having fun and enjoying, and that was a very enjoyable game to be a part of.”

How else could you explain the NBA’s worst rebounding team grabbing 29 offensive boards, a new high-water mark across the league this season? Certainly, Day’Ron Sharpe, who had nine o-boards of his own, added a talent and certain type of athleticism normally absent from Brooklyn’s rotation. But those 29 boards more greatly reflect the energy Brooklyn played with, an energy that makes basketball, both playing and watching, straight up fun.

Brooklyn is now having fun. The schedule-makers cursing them by dropping a back-to-back on the end of their most successful stretch of the season, a 6-1 home-stand? Nope, not a curse at all, just an opportunity to watch the young guys ball out and for the veterans, Morris and Mills, to remind us they’re more than just vocal leaders.

So yeah, Brooklyn is having fun right now. Maybe they even have a bit of swagger, as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings. The Nets’ next chance to continue this momentum and to grab their 11th win in 14 tries will come on Monday night, when they travel to Washington to face the Wizards. The Nets beat the Wiz twice last month, one blowout, the other a close one. Washington has lost six straight and nine of their last 10.

Where to follow the game

Rinse and repeat. YES Network and the YES App have the telecast, and WFAN-FM has the radio call for this one. All local, with a 7:00 p.m. ET start-time.


The regulars all look to be back, with the exception of Royce O’Neale, still out due to personal reasons. Nic Claxton, too, is questionable, as he recovers from right hamstring tightness. David Duke Jr. and Kessler Edwards are playing in Long Island vs. the Capital City Go-Go, the Wizards affiliate, as will Alondes Williams who made his Nets debut in Indianapolis.

With Washington, we’ll start with what we know for certain: Bradley Beal (hamstring), Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring) are out. Additionally, Monte Morris (ankle) and Anthony Gill (heel) are both questionable for Monday's contest. Will Barton is off the Wizards’ injury report meaning he should be available.

The Game

No matter if Monte Morris and Anthony Gill end up playing, expect to see a healthy dose of Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. This is particularly true with Bradley Beal out of the lineup, but those two have performed regardless of Beal’s status this season.

Porzingis is coming off a 30/15/5 line in Washington’s last game vs. the Clippers; he scored 59 points total over the weekend. Offensively, he is thriving in a system that affords him a diversity of touches. Porzingis is posting up mismatches more frequently, and still shooting threes, but what’s really blossomed this season is his ability to drive the ball.

The cycle of death and re-birth of NBA hype happens at warp speed. It’s been eons since Knicks fans were infuriated with drafting some Latvian guy before growing enamored with him. Even the Luka + KP era of Dallas basketball is old, old news. So now Porzingis, just 27, is on a Wizards team made to be forgotten in NBA history books. But the movement skills he has at 7’3”, even after constant injuries, combined with his shooting touch makes him a special watch. Add in excellent defense around the basket, specifically in drop coverage, and Porzingis should be an All-Star this year. Really. It’s just that most of us haven’t been paying attention.

Kyle Kuzma will likely fall short on All-Star ballots this season, but he’s been Washington’s other bright spot; fitting, then, that rumors of a trade request have started floating about. Kuzma is averaging 21 points a game this season while shooting just 33% from deep, although sniping it lately (13 for his last 24). If Brooklyn doesn’t treat him with the proper respect, they’ll be in a shoot-out with a 6’9” wing who has no conscience, who’s improved his two-point scoring and foul-drawing. Not ideal.

If Nic Claxton is in, his matchup with Porzingis should be fun. If not, I expect to see extended minutes with Kevin Durant playing the five and more than a few with Day’Ron Sharpe coming off his 20/13 game in Indy.

More accurately, I expect to see a five-shooter lineup, a lineup that Jacque Vaughn has been more willing to play than his predecessor Steve Nash was. Washington would certainly have trouble containing it, considering their defensive anchor, Porzingis, is much more comfortable as just that, an anchor, than venturing away from the basket. Here he is giving up the game-winning basket to a five-out Clippers lineup:

Even Kristaps guarding Ben Simmons, though, doesn’t pose a huge threat to Brooklyn’s offense. Considering Simmons’ penchant for getting into dribble hand-offs, and many Nets’ penchants for swishing mid-range jumpers, that doesn’t sound like a picnic on the National Mall for Porzingis.

In any case, Washington represents a decent matchup for Brooklyn. They are not overtly physical, playing their best offensive rebounding threat, Daniel Gafford, 13 minutes a game. As a team, they rank 22nd in free-throw attempts per game. Ideally, their offense stretches the opponent out; Brooklyn shows up to the arena stretched out. Claxton and Simmons are just fine guarding 30 feet from the basket.

As Zach Lowe wrote about Claxton last week:

Claxton can corral guards on switches or barricade the rim in conservative schemes; opponents are shooting just 53% at the basket with Claxton nearby. He’s not strong enough to plug Brooklyn’s rebounding leakage, but he is snaring defensive boards at a career-best rate.

Following his 33-point explosion, we may see more than just spot minutes from Cam Thomas. The difference in his mojo when he is facilitating offense vs. playing off the ball is so stark, you have to wonder if Thomas is the path to reducing others’ loads in the short-term. He’s had his ups and (mostly) downs this season, but scoring 21 points in the fourth-quarter of an NBA win ain’t easy. Is Brooklyn willing to let Cam play in isolation and pick-and-roll for an extra four minutes a game in order to get Durant rest? Is that a solution that benefits all parties involved? Starting with Monday’s game in Washington, we could soon get a read on how this coaching staff values Cam Thomas.

From the Vault

This Joe Johnson game-winner doesn’t get as much shine as his many others, probably because it wasn’t technically a buzzer-beater, but it’s as good as any of ‘em. The classically dejected call from the Wizards broadcast, Gerald Wallace taunting fans in the corner as the ball drops in the hoop. Pretty, pretty good.