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Nets cap off seven-game home-stand vs. Atlanta

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Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Alright, not the most inspiring of wins. We’ll take it, though. The Nets defeated a miserable Charlotte Hornets team by the skin of their teeth, 122-116, to move to 14-12 and into sole possession of the Eastern Conference’s four-seed. Pretty good! Especially for a team that started the year 2-6, fired their coach, know, you were there.

Enough about the past, though. Brooklyn is far enough into the season, and far enough into a new vibe, if you will, that we can say they’ve transformed identities. No longer are the Nets a highly-priced, drama-filled train wreck. Rather, the Nets are simply a good team (hopefully) working towards greatness, despite the inevitability of that progress being non-linear.

Their win against Charlotte felt worse in many respects than their loss against Boston. The drop-off in energy was to be expected, going from the truly intriguing regular season match-up to, if there ever was one, just another game. So Brooklyn came out flat against a bad team on the second night of a back-to-back. Then they seemingly corrected course, building a 21-point lead before halftime. Slow starts happen, all could have been forgiven!

Then they relapsed into nonchalance, giving up 61 second-half points to the Fighting Mason Plumlees, resulting in a sweaty win rather than extended garbage time. None of that precious rest for Brooklyn’s key guys, something that Jacque Vaughn recently stated as a goal.

But if there are no moral victories, then there are no plastic losses. Brooklyn won yet another basketball game, and this highly-anticipated home-stand than began by losing Ben Simmons to injury has become an objective success. Can’t argue with 5-1!

You can argue even less against 6-1, a record that the Nets can sign, seal, and deliver this home-stand with, should they win on Friday night against the depleted Atlanta Hawks.

Where to follow the game

Copy and paste, It’s all local. YES Network and the YES App have the telecast, and WFAN-FM has the radio call. We have a normal 7:30 p.m. ET start-time. It’s also, ironically enough, Ben10 t-shirt night. The first 10,000 fans inside Barclays get this beauty.

Injury Report

Ben Simmons: not listed on the injury report! He will make his return following a four-and-change-game absence. Yuta Watanabe: Unfortunately, he’s out.with that hamstring issue. This will be his ninth straight DNP. However, earlier in the week, Watanabe said he was targeting a weekend return, and Brooklyn does have a quick turn-around, playing in Indiana on Saturday. Look for Watanabe’s potential return then.

Unlike Brooklyn, the Hawks don’t just need a Band-Aid; they need the whole ambulance:

Another note: The official report, above, does not include Trae Young, who, in the words of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Lauren Williams, “did not practice [Thursday]. He woke up this morning not feeling well and he stayed back at the team hotel. They will see how he feels [Friday].” It is indeed rough for Atlanta.

And we haven’t even mentioned Young’s recent dust-up with his head coach, John Collins trade rumors or their 113-89 loss to the Knicks two nights ago.

The game

Brooklyn may be getting Atlanta’s junior varsity. They could very well could be getting the freshmen squad, should Trae Young miss the game. So let’s talk about something I’ve been dying to see from the Nets for a while now, a certain type of closeout. (Nerd alert!)

You may have noticed from watching, or from reading Matt Brooks, that Brooklyn gives up a ton of 3-pointers due to over-helping. For example:

Yes, Kevin Durant does give up a clean corner attempt to Al Horford on that possession. One way to combat this? X’ing out. The concept is straightforward; the defenders just...make an ‘x’. That’s it:

Brooklyn falls into one by accident there, and it’s not perfect. But it makes sense! Nic Claxton is in the paint to protect the rim, which we all love to see, and instead of forcing him to close all the way out to his original man, Joe Harris buys him some time. Now, it doesn’t always look exactly like that, but that’s the idea. Take this possession, also from the Boston game:

KD is there, x’ing out, entirely out of self-preservation, not any pre-determined philosophy. But he pulls up short, ignorant to the fact that Joe Harris, who just contested a driver at the rim, is covering for him. Durant thinks he’s guarding two, and it results in an open three.

The Nets want whoever is guarding the corner to contest at the rim, and that’s perfectly fine. Nic Claxton is often down there, as are Yuta Watanabe, Kevin Durant, and Ben Simmons. Big dudes, so it makes sense. But if the Nets are going to help into the paint that much, I would love to see some x-outs. Considering the Nets stumbled into a couple against the league’s best offense, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see some, going forward.

Player to Watch

Even against an under-manned Hawks team, they’ll still have 3-point threats. Bogdan Bogdanovic is back, after all. But the player to watch is actually the entire NBA’s third-youngest: A.J. Griffin.

The 19-year-old is fresh out of Duke, and man can he shoot. Like, he can really shoot. But don’t just take my word for it, or the 45% he shot from deep in college. Just look:

His feathery touch translates to floater range, which he can get too by using a bulky 6’6” frame. Griffin was an all-world high school prospect, even after suffering repeated injuries to his lower body. He’s not quite the athlete he was as a (younger) teenager, a depressing sentence, but there’s no guarantee he won’t get back to throwing down high-flying dunks.

Even without that A-tier athleticism, though, AJG’s ability to shoot the rock ensures the Archbishop Stepinac product (shoutout White Plains) will have a place in this league for some time to come.

From the Vault

We toyed with using video of Trae Young bowing to the Madison Square Garden crowd back in June 2021. It did happen in New York, but instead we’re going with Johnson & Johnson, former Atlanta Hawk Joe’s double buzzer-beater moment at Barclays nine years ago. It has the added bonus of two great Ian Eagle calls...

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