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Nets and Cavs begin play-in games at Barclays Center

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Our long, strange journey has one more stop to make. Is there any way we thought we’d be all the way back in October? Hell no, but we’re here now. The Brooklyn Nets made it to this point after beating the Indiana Pacers on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center to clinch the seventh seed.

Waiting for Brooklyn will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. Injuries wreaked havoc on the Cavs this year, but they’ve fought incredibly hard to make it to this point and deserve a lot of props. They sealed the eighth place position after knocking around the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday afternoon.

Where to follow the game

TNT on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7 p.m. ET. No YES,

Injuries

Joe Harris is out. Ben Simmons is out too, but it looks like he’s starting to get close. Seth Curry sat on Sunday afternoon to rest his sore left ankle. He’ll be back tonight. Same for Goran Dragic as he exited health and safety protocols on Monday.

Collin Sexton and Dean Wade are out. Jarrett Allen was hoping to make its way back, but our old friend won’t be on the court tonight. He’s still recovering from a broken finger.

The game

During the regular season, Brooklyn won games one, two, and four while the Cavs snagged game three.

Winner of this game has a date with the Boston Celtics starting on Sunday.

In an unfortunate bit of business for the Cavs, this is the third city they’ve played in in the last four games. They’ve gone from Orlando -> Brooklyn -> Cleveland -> and back to Brooklyn for this game. Meanwhile, the Nets have been in town for the past week and change. Just the way the cookie crumbles, I suppose.

Now that the stakes are higher, the Nets will need to be serious for all 48 minutes. As we saw on Sunday afternoon and even Friday night, they get off to a huge lead and then gradually let go of the rope only to find themselves having to work harder than they should to close the games out. They sometimes get too loose with the basketball (25th in turnover rate post All Star break) and that gets them in some shit. The Cavs don’t cash in on many of those opportunities (26th in points off of turnovers), but what time better than the present to reverse a trend? If the Nets jump out to a huge lead tonight, they have to keep their feet on the pedal and not let up.

For the Cavs, their jumbo frontcourt powered much of their success this year. The size will definitely help on the boards, and most importantly at the rim. On the season overall, they only allowed teams to shoot 60 percent inside the restricted area, best in the NBA. However, after the break and as the injuries piled up, their rim protection worsened as teams shot 65 percent from the field at the rim, a seven percent jump from before the break. For Brooklyn, they have to attack the basket as much as humanly possible and put pressure on the Cavs’ young star, Evan Mobley, at the rim.

Mobley probably won’t win Rookie of the Year, but he’s had a great year and is one of the building blocks of an exciting Cavs future. He was fifth among rookies in scoring and tops in both rebounds and blocks. Without Allen, he’ll be the guy looking to make life hell on the Nets on the inside as well as battle Andre Drummond and Nic Claxton on the boards.

Last night was the WNBA Draft, and the New York Liberty bolstered the roster by drafting Nayra Sabally, Lorela Cubaj, and Sika Kone. Training camp for the team begins on April 17, and we'll have you covered. Maybe the new draftees in the W will be in the house to watch their peers tonight?

Bruce Brown’s excellence has been one of the biggest aspects to Brooklyn’s turnaround in the second half, and Doug Norrie of the Locked on Nets podcast made a wonderful observation on Twitter on Monday:

Oh my. Brown has been the team’s third best player since the break and if he’s able to continue knocking down his threes while still providing his usual bolt of energy, he’ll have the Barclays Center crowd on its feet early and often.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and Kevin Durant is ready to make it happen. KD had an off night with his shot on Sunday, but made sure to feed everybody else who was locked in. The great thing about Durant is that even when he’s having a bad game by his standards, he can still make enough positive plays to seal the win for his team. Durant cut up Lauri Markkanen and got Caris Levert into heavy foul trouble on Friday, so we’ll see how the Cavaliers try to change things up for this matchup.

Player to watch: Darius Garland

Heck of a way to make your maiden voyage into the postseason. Garland has taken on more responsibility with Sexton out, and received a well deserved All Star nomination, the first of many. One big part of Garland’s success was his ability to finish at the rim. Per Basketball-Reference, DG shot 60.7 percent on shots inside of three feet this year, the best of his career thus far. If there’s one cause for concern, it’s that he’s a bit turnover prone. Garland was seventh in the NBA in turnovers this season (almost four a night) and for a team like the Nets that will punish your mistakes, Garland will need to play a clean game tonight if his guys want to earn the seventh seed.

It’s pretty wild that Kyrie Irving was away for a large part of the year and still put up 27 points a night on a .469/.418/.915 shooting split. It speaks to Irving’s level of skill and excellence that he was able to play at a reasonably high level despite all the chaos that surrounded him and the franchise this year. Coming down the stretch, we talked a bunch about Irving not getting to the rim as much as we’re used to seeing, but look for that to change now that we’re in the play-in. When Irving is consistently attacking and not settling for jumpers, he becomes even more difficult to handle and with all the shooting that’s surrounding him, forces opponents into impossible situations.

From the Vault

Been a while since we’ve seen the Cavs in a playoff game in our neck of the woods

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