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Kyrie Irving makes home debut as Nets face Hornets in critical matchup

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Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Picture me rollin'. The Brooklyn Nets went into Saturday night's game against the Miami Heat looking to make a statement and keep pace in the playoff race. They did that and then some with a dominating win that sent a statement to the Heat and everybody else who might be in Brooklyn's way.

The opponent tonight will be the Charlotte Hornets. James Borrego and company are in the play-in race, with an opportunity to move up a slot. They wrapped up their homestand and helped their playoff cause by beating the Utah Jazz on Friday night. Once this one wraps up, they’re right back in the air as they head home to take on the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30 p.m.

Injuries

No Joe Harris or Ben Simmons. LaMarcus Aldridge is getting closer and there's a chance he might return soon. And Kyrie Irving makes his home debut, his first game at Barclays Center since the Nets met the Bucks on June 7 of last year.

Gordon Hayward is out with a left ankle sprain.

The game

Charlotte won the first game in October, while Brooklyn took game two earlier in March. This is the final regular season meeting between these teams, and the stakes is high.

The odds favor Brooklyn, but they have to make sure they lock in and do what they can to win. The winner of this game will win the season series and that will have major ramifications on a wild Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Get ready for a shootout. Both teams are top six in offensive rating and points off of turnovers post All Star break, and whoever wins the turnover battle will have an opportunity to cash in and get easy points in transition. For the Nets, if they can get the crowd hype and all the way into this game, it can have the additional effect of throwing off a young Hornets club. With playoff positioning on the line, every advantage matters and the Barclays crowd can be one if the Nets give them something to cheer for.

On the season, the Hornets allow 20 wide open threes per game, second most in the NBA. That spells doom for a Nets team that has regained its three point stroke following the acquisition of Seth Curry. The team's ball movement has been pristine in recent weeks and if they continue sharing the ball and playing with pace, they'll get their fair share of clean looks from deep.

Rap and go to the league. Miles Bridges is pretty damn good at both and as one of the foundational pieces for Charlotte. The team has asked a lot of him on offense and he's delivered, averaging a career high 20 points a game on a .489/.323/.805 shooting split. The three point mark represents a career low, so the Nets may be content if he settles for threes instead of attacking the basket.

The Hornets have been one of the weaker rebounding teams in the NBA this year, and that could be problematic against a big like Andre Drummond. Drum only needed to play 17 minutes last night so he'll be fully energized for this one. He and Nic Claxton have been awesome at the center position for the Nets and they'll try to throw Mason Plumlee and Montrezl Harrell around on the inside.

The great thing about being on the good end of a blowout is your big guns get to rest a bit. Kevin Durant only played 30 minutes last night (and got the entire fourth quarter off) so he should have a bit more in the tank tonight. KD did his usual thing and shot 50 percent from the field. When Durant is locked in, he opens the floor up and makes everything easier for his teammates. He's alson15 points away from surpassing Reggie Miller and Rick Barry on the all time scoring list. He breaks a record every time he touches the court.

Player to watch: Kyrie Irving

In a hilarious twist of fate, it ends against the team where this journey began. Back in October, a swarm of anti-vaxxers wreaked havoc inside and outside of Barclays Center protesting the city mandates that prevented Irving from participating in home games after he chose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Thursday, after some lobbying by the Nets along with the New York Mets and New York Yankees, the Mayor changed the policy to allow for unvaccinated New York athletes to play within city limits. For Irving and the Nets, it ended a months long journey that tested the strength of their partnership, made life difficult for everyone, and altered the Nets plans for much of the year. Everyone feels how they feel about it, but now that he’s back to work full time, the issue is done for now. At the very least, I won't have to hear some of y'all cook up cockamamie plans theories about the team playing playoff games outside of Barclays Center anymore. Thank God for small miracles.

When Irving last saw the Hornets, he had a 50-point masterclass as the Nets got a much needed road victory. If he can do something similar tonight, it'll make an important night even more special for the Nets. Irving is that downhill presence the team has missed for much of the season and when you combine that with his ability to get his own shot whenever he wants, it allows the Nets offense to be at full capacity for 48 minutes a night. Irving and the Nets are fully aware of the importance of this contest, so look for them to make a statement early so they can have Charlotte on their heels.

LaMelo Ball will look to spoil the fun this evening. Ball has been everything Hornets fans could've dreamed of since the 2020 Draft and he was rewarded with his first All Star nomination this year. Ball is two tons of fun and he's a good bet to make at least one jaw dropping pass a game. As he continues to develop and get fully comfortable, he'll make the Hornets one of the more enjoyable teams to watchin the NBA now and in the future.

From the Vault

It’s Elite Eight Sunday, and with North Carolina hoping to end Saint Peter’s University’s miracle run, it’s as good a time as any to revisit one of the best Elite Eight games UNC has ever played.

More reading: At the Hive

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