Doing what you can. The Brooklyn Nets walked in to Wednesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors looking to extend their six game winning streak to seven. They were able to do that and then some with a 30 point demolition of the shorthanded reigning NBA champs. After this, the Nets get Christmas weekend off before closing out 2022 on a three game road trip.
The Eastern Conference figures to be incredibly tough, and tonight’s opponent might be the toughest of all. The Milwaukee Bucks have withstood some injuries and are contenders to make the NBA Finals once again. Even with their loss on Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks are atop the East.
Where to follow the game
YES Network for us, NBATV for the outsiders. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30 PM.
Yuta Wantanabe is questionable with right hamstring tightness. David Duke Jr and Day’ron Sharpe are available if needed be as they’re back from their G-League assignments. Kyrie Irving sat on Wednesday with right calf tightness, but he’ll be good to go tonight.
Khris Middleton is doubtful with right knee soreness.
Milwaukee won the first meeting back in October. The next meeting after tonight will be on February 28.
For elite teams, the regular season is a laboratory where you experiment and try things out. It takes time to develop the chemistry and rotations that will work best when the game gets harder in the postseason. Throughout the 82 games, teams have to see what works best overall and in specific situations against certain teams. On Wednesday, Mike Budenholzer rolled out a smallball lineup that featured Nets nemesis, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, at center. Giannis spoke about it in postgame and said:
Giannis Antetokounmpo postgame snippets from Cleveland.— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) December 22, 2022
He talked about how him looking to score worked best, playing without Khris Middleton and the small-ball lineup Coach Bud used to get the Bucks back in the game. @basketbllnews pic.twitter.com/GnxDqALOm6
Antetokuonmpo has made life hell on the Nets in recent years, and is a sure bet to do it again tonight. Without Middleton, Giannis has taken on even more offensive responsibilities and leads the NBA in usage rate. It hasn’t affected him much as he’s third in scoring (31 points a night), fifth in rebounding (11.2 a night), and is handing out five assists a night while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. The free throw and three point percentages are down from where they’ve been in recent years, but you can live with it. It’s going to take a total team effort to slow Antetokuonmpo down and keep him from the basket. Tonight will be a great test for the Nets as they try to defeat the two time MVP.
Since he came back from injury, Ben Simmons has averaged 24 minutes a game. He’s played quality ball for the most part as he’s starting to regain the aggressiveness he needs to be elite. He committed a few ticky tack fouls on Wednesday, and he can’t afford to have that happen tonight. If the Bucks go “small” the Nets figure to counter with Simmons at center. Either way, he’ll spend a good amount of time wrestling with Antetokuonmpo. A good showing here will do wonders for his confidence and help propel him even further in his comeback. Considering the level of competition, playing at least 30 minutes tonight will be a welcome development for Simmons.
Both of these teams have marquee matchups awaiting them after this one wraps up. Milwaukee will have a playoff rematch on the road against the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day while the Nets have a play-in rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers the day after in Cleveland.
Brooklyn’s rebounding has been better in December, and that’s going to be put to the ultimate test tonight. Milwaukee has been the best rebounding team in the East this year, and have bruisers like Giannis and Bobby Portis ready to own the boards. Portis in particular made life tough on Brooklyn in October as his 20 points and 11 rebounds paced the Bucks bench. With Watanabe less than 100 percent, this could be a night where Jacque Vaughn utilizes Markieff Morris a bit more. Size has come up as a point of contention for the Nets and it’ll take everyone to win the battle on the boards tonight.
Having Kyrie Irving back will do wonders for Brooklyn. They didn’t need him on Wednesday night, but he’s been sensational in December and is cementing a spot in the upcoming All Star Game. The Bucks are excellent at protecting the basket, and Irving is a spectacular finisher at the rim. It will make for a fun back and forth and the Nets will need a great game from Kyrie to keep the streak alive.
It will make for a fun contrast, and Jrue Holiday will do his best to make life tough on Irving. Without Middleton, Holiday has had to work harder on offense to pick up the slack. His numbers are down, but you can always count on him to make winning plays when the game is on the line.
I’ve made it this far, and I haven’t gotten to Brooklyn’s MVP yet! Kevin Durant had a smooth day at the office as he scored 23 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and handed out five assists in a season low 29 minutes. KD got the entire fourth quarter off, and for a guy who’s leading the NBA in total minutes, it’s nice to sneak him some pockets of extended rest when you can. In the first meeting, the Bucks held Durant to his second worst field goal percentage of the season, but KD made up for it by getting to the free throw line 13 times. Durant has been incredible and he’s managed to handle every defense thrown at him this year. He’s kept everything steady for the franchise and as this year ends, there is renewed hope and optimism for the future.
Biggest game of the year ... so far? Pretty much. The Nets looked like they were rolling back at the beginning of December with four straight wins only to have their hopes smacked down on December 4 when the Celtics came to town. Since then, they’ve been on another roll, longer, more satisfying. Now, though, another legitimate contender is in the house. A win here would be huge. A loss would be fuel for the skeptics.
Player to watch: Brook Lopez
I’m currently making my way through Spaced Out: How the NBA’s Three Point Revolution Changed Everything You Thought You Knew About Basketball by Mike Prada, and it’s a great book. It details the evolution of the game and how the three pointer has influenced the league. One person who has evolved with the league is our old friend, Brook Lopez. Way back in 2017, former Nets assistant GM, Bobby Marks, spoke to NetsDaily about Lopez’s three point growth over time:
“I saw the range right when we drafted him in 2008 in summer league. You could tell right off the bat that his mechanics were good but he was labeled a center and at that time 5’s didn’t evolve their game beyond the three-point line.”
Brook has continued to work on it and is shooting a career best 40 percent from deep. The big guy can score in the post, operate from deep, is solid at the foul line, and can be trusted to be a consistent source of scoring. You love to see it.
Along with the great offense, he’s helped lead an elite Milwaukee defense and is getting some early Defensive Player of the Year love. Lopez spoke being considered for DPOY with Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated and said:
“Absolutely it would mean something, it would be a great honor. I’ve had a very interesting career arc. The changes I’ve had to make to my game to stay in the league, I’m proud of that and I’m proud of the player I’ve become. It would definitely be an honor.”
Lopez’s career has been pretty fascinating, and it’s exciting to see where it goes from here.
Your sibling knows all your moves and won’t hesitate to call it out any chance they get. The Lopez brothers are no exception
Robin Lopez mic'd up vs his brother Brook is pure comedy ️ pic.twitter.com/UGSNQHYvUC— NBA (@NBA) December 22, 2022
For Brooklyn, Nic Claxton has also thrust himself into early Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Clax is second to Lopez in blocks and like Lopez, has helped his team be top five in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area. Claxton has exceeded (most) everyone’s expectations and has been one of the team’s best players. He only played 23 minutes in the first matchup, and like Simmons, the Nets will need a big game out of him tonight if they want to win. Matchups like these are great for young players like Claxton and if he’s able to dominate, it will set the tone for the rest of the year.
From the Vault
Christmas Day is on Sunday, so let’s vibe out
More reading: Brew Hoop
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Milwaukee Bucks Game Notes - Milwaukee Bucks
- Nets put 7-game streak on the line vs. nemesis Bucks - STATS
- Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee against Brooklyn after 45-point game - AP
- Surging Nets face big test vs. NBA-best Bucks - David Scott - New York Post
- Kevin Durant still just wants to hoop. The game demands more. - Michael Lee - Washington Post
- How Bobby Portis, Grayson Allen used the playoff loss to Boston to improve - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel