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Nets wrap up homestand vs. the Utah Jazz

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Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

From ashy to classy. The Brooklyn Nets started off the Portland Trailblazers game on Friday night playing as if they had other plans that night, but they got serious after halftime and came away with a much-needed victory. The W kept them within striking distance of the sixth and seventh seeds in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The race to the finish line is gonna be weird and wacky, and we’re here for all of it.

The opponent tonight will be the Utah Jazz. Quin Snyder and friends have a great chance to make it all the way up to second place in the Western Conference standings if things break right for them down the stretch. They’ve been in town the past few days and helped their cause with a win against the New York Knicks on Sunday night at MSG. They also got a huge assist from the San Antonio Spurs, who beat the Golden State Warriors in the final seconds last night in San Francisco.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for us, NBATV for the out-of-towners. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30 p.m.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons, LaMarcus Aldridge, or Joe Harris. Aldridge (hip) is expected back later in the week. Kyrie Irving can’t play but he is back on the clock Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. He has three games left in regular season.

Bojan Bogdanovic is out with a left calf strain. Danuel House, Jr is out with a left knee bone bruise. Udoka Azubuike is out with a right ankle sprain. Trent Forrest sat out last night’s game with a right wrist sprain. No word on if he’ll be back tonight. Mike Conley Jr missed the Knicks game for left knee injury maintenance purposes. We’ll see if he’s back tonight.

The game

Utah won the first meeting in February.

This is the third game in four nights for the Jazz, and the odds are in their favor. This is an important game for both teams as they jockey for playoff positioning.

Steve Nash mentioned that the team was unserious all day long on Friday and were lucky to get the win after they woke up in the second half. Here’s more:

“I thought we wanted it easy. We wanted to solve the puzzle with the snap of our fingers instead of playing it. Part of it is defensively, we weren’t locked in. Part of it is also offensively, not going the extra mile: to play with pace, make hard cuts, set good screens, move the ball, drive it, kick it, drive it again, touch the paint, spray it out. We wanted it easy and we wanted it quick.”

With where they are in the standings and much better opponents awaiting them, they need to cut the crap and play hard for the whole game.

Typically, a 38 point, six rebound, and six assist night on 11-15 from the field would be a wonderful night. However, when you turn the ball over eight times, it muddies things up a bit. Such is life for Kevin Durant, who’ll look to clean some things up and get back to dominating tonight. He’s looked like his usual self and will look to punish every defender the Jazz throw at him. Royce O’Neale usually gets the assignment of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player, and he’ll be get the KD matchup this evening. The Blazers played KD physically, so look for O’Neale to try and do the same tonight.

When Rudy Gay was brought in over the summer, he was expected to bring some extra scoring punch and be the smallball big that would solve some of their postseason woes against teams that downsize late. It hasn’t worked out that way, but there’s still time to get it right. Sven Karabegovic of SLC Dunk applied some context to Gay’s season and wrote:

Over the summer, Gay undertook surgery on his right heel to take care of pain that he had been dealing with for over five years. On top of learning a new system and adjusting to a new environment, Gay’s recovery ended up eating into the start of the season and forced him into a late debut. His short time in Utah hasn’t been strictly smooth sailing.

Nonetheless, with the playoffs less than a month away, the Utah Jazz need Gay to have a stronger impact on the court. He’s still Utah’s best and most versatile option at the four spot off the bench and is definitely a better rebounder, shooter, and defender than the likes of Eric Paschall.

This one ought to be a high scoring affair. Since the break, the Nets have averaged 119.6 points per 100 possessions, fourth best in the league. The Jazz are “only” eighth, but they’ve been the number one rated offense in the NBA for the entire season. They’re top ten in both attempts and efficiency, and for a Nets offense that has gotten it back into gear thanks to the return of KD, will try to go shot for shot with the Jazz.

All title teams need that one elite player they can give the ball to and say “get us a bucket” over and over again. Is Donovan Mitchell that guy for the Jazz? He’s eleventh in scoring at almost 26 a night and most importantly, he’s a great scorer at all three levels. He’s always been a great finisher at the cup, but this year’s he’s made over 70 percent of his shots inside of three feet. He’s a solid midrange shooter and a pretty respectable three point shooter, even accounting for the high volume of threes he takes. The Jazz will only go as far as he takes them when the time is right.

In the mean time, Bruce Brown will look to chase Mitchell around and slow him down. Brown deserved the game ball on Friday night as his energy sparked the Nets and gave the Barclays crowd a lot to cheer for. Brown helps the Nets push the tempo and someone that can attack the basket. He’s gaining more confidence by the day and will be key to Brooklyn’s chances down the line.

Player to watch: Rudy Gobert

It’s the strangest thing. By all metrics that are available to us, Gobert grades out as a damn good player. He’s won the Defensive Player of the Year three times in the past four years, has been an All Star three straight years and is one of the best defenders and rim protectors in the league. However, people don’t like him so he’s a perfect target for slander and gets a lot of the blame when the Jazz flame out in the playoffs. A lot of their failures aren’t his fault, but when you get the max contract, people come looking your way first.

In the meantime, he’s put together another great season. He’s first in rebounds and blocks, and is holding opponents to only 42 percent when he’s guarding them. It’s up to Snyder and the rest of the Jazz to play to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses when things get tough.

In the game last night, Julius Randle got into a tiff with Gobert, but nothing came of it.

That was weird.

The dynamic duo of Andre Drummond and Nic Claxton will look to control the paint for the Nets. Drummond had 17 points and nine rebounds on Friday and has shot 68.3 percent over his last eight games. He’ll be a worthy foe for Gobert on the boards tonight and if he’s able to hold it down, it’ll help the Nets transition attack and help them get some easy points. Clax has been excellent coming off of the bench and with Aldridge out for at least another week, he’ll have more time to shake things up.

From the Vault

In sad news, Hall of Fame football journalist, John Clayton, passed away on Friday night at the age of 67. Let’s take a trip back in time to one of the excellent “This is SportsCenter” commercials

And as the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament rolls on, let’s take a trip back to the 1989 Sweet 16

More reading: SLC Dunk

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