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Nets try to snap losing streak as they face Hornets in critical matchup

Charlotte Hornets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Walls are closing in. The Brooklyn Nets started their three game road trip with a marquee matchup against the resurgent Boston Celtics. It was a fun game to watch, but for the Nets, they couldn’t bring it home as Jayson Tatum’s 54 point masterclass got the Nets their fourth straight loss and they are now below .500 on the season. The team is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and the objective from here on out is to at least be in the seventh or eighth spot so they have something resembling breathing room.

The opponent tonight will be the Charlotte Hornets. James Borrego and his club are in good position to make it back into the play-in for the second straight season. They helped the cause with a six-point home victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night. The Hornets currently reside in the eighth slot and hope to surprise some folks down the stretch.

Where to follow the game

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

Injuries

Joe Harris and Ben Simmons are out. LaMarcus Aldridge is out with a right hip impingement. Cam Thomas left Sunday’s game with a back contusion and he’s listed as questionable. Kyrie Irving is available.

Gordon Hayward is out with a left ankle sprain. Brooklyn’s James Bouknight is out with neck soreness. Jalen McDaniels is questionable with a left ankle sprain.

The game

Charlotte won the first meeting in October. The third and final regular season meeting between these clubs will be on March 27 at Barclays Center.

Since coming over from the Washington Wizards, Montrezl Harrell has been pretty decent. The big fella has averaged 14 points and seven rebounds a night in 26 minutes off the bench since coming over at the trade deadline. He gives the team a spark of energy off the bench and is a change of pace from our old friend, Mason Plumlee.

With the Nets on another losing streak, their odds of winning the championship are starting to get lower. At least the odds for tonight are in their favor. Now it’s just a matter of living up to their standards.

The Nets big rotation is in an interesting spot. My main man Alec Sturm noted that the team deployed Nic Claxton as a forward next to the traditional bigs, and it worked pretty decently. The Nets defense has been springing leaks for a while, and Claxton helps solve them. LaMarcus Aldridge got more minutes than Andre Drummond, and it’ll be interesting to see the minutes distribution for this one with LMA out. In all likelihood, Blake Griffin will be back in the rotation this evening.

We reviewed Ben Detrick and Andrew Kuo’s The Joy of Basketball a while back, and the emotional support vet chapter was one of my favorites. Isaiah Thomas is the emotional support vet for the Hornets, and Terry Rozier recently spoke about IT’s impact:

“It ain’t just what he does on the court. It’s his leadership, him being a vet, his voice in the huddles, in the locker room, already making an impact. It’s just good for us to have guys like him around that have been around and been to the playoffs and know what it takes.”

Shouts to a real one.

Rozier has had to do more thanks to Hayward’s injury, and he’s been a good Hornet since he came over from the Celtics. Since February 9 when Hayward went on the injured list, Rozier has averaged 24 points, six assists, and five rebounds in 37 minutes a night on an impressive .459/.386/.921 shooting split.

We’re still thinking about Brittney Griner and hope that she’s OK.

The Hornets have asked a lot out of Miles Bridges this season, and he’s delivered and then some. He’s sixth in the NBA in minutes, and has rewarded Hornets fans with 20 points and seven rebounds a night. Bridges is a ferocious finisher at the cup and he tuned Brooklyn up the first time he saw them with 32 points and nine boards. The Nets will have to keep Bridges in front of him an if they can throw some resistance at him, they can make life harder on the Hornets.

Get ready to run. Charlotte is second in pace and in a big game like this, getting out early in transition and making highlight slams that will get the crowd hype. The Hornets are second in points off of turnovers, second in fastbreak points, and third in points in the paint. The Nets can not afford to be lackadaisical and make careless mistakes. One big run and an excited crowd will lead to a lot of problems.

Aside from the seven turnovers, Kevin Durant was masterful against the C’s. KD brought it on Sunday as his 37 points, eight assists, and six rebounds led the Nets attack. KD also joined the 25k points club, and if a few things went his way health-wise, he’d be in the 30k point club by now. If he keeps at it, Durant will reach 30k points and beyond.

Player to watch: Lamelo Ball

The league is in great hands going forward. Ball got a well deserved honor and was named to his first All Star game this season. Ball is tenth in the Association in assists, averaging seven a night and he plays with a verve and joy that is contagious. He’s been taking more three pointers this season and is shooting a snazzy 37 percent from downtown. He’s trimmed down on the turnovers and as he gains more experience and playoff seasoning, he’ll be one of the leading faces of the next era of NBA basketball.

It’s really this simple: If you only play basketball part-time, when you are on the court, you have to play focused, A+, excellent ball at all times. No excuses. In a game the Nets absolutely had to have, Kyrie Irving was passive and not up to his standards on Sunday afternoon. The 8-18 from the field doesn’t look all that bad, but when you consider he wasn’t attacking the basket that frequently, only took one free throw attempt, and made some head scratching decisions when he had the ball. Irving and the Nets have no margin for error and with the way things are currently, they will need him to play like the Hall of Famer he is.

From the Vault

Saturday night was Mike Krzykewski’s last home game at Duke as he’ll be retiring from coaching at the end of the season. With that in mind, let’s revisit one of Duke’s greatest moments with Coach K at the helm

And before we hit the road, wanted to pull out one of my favorite Jay-Z records to celebrate my birthday! It’s been an immense pleasure writing here and being a part of this worldwide Nets community. Love and light to all y’all.

More reading: At the Hive

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