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Nets and Hawks face off in Atlanta

Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

One mistake. When you face the best of the best, one slip up is all it takes and you’re doomed. The Brooklyn Nets gave their nemesis, the Milwaukee Bucks, one hell of a fight on Thursday night at Barclays Center. The game went to overtime and the Nets fell just short, falling by one point. The team enters today’s contest in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings after they lost the season series to the Charlotte Hornets.

The opponent tonight is someone that’s also jostling for position in the East standings. Nate McMillan and the Atlanta Hawks have had their own struggles this season, but are hoping they can go on a run. They helped the cause by clinching a play-in spot by beating up on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for us. NBATV for the rest of y’all. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30 p.m.


Joe Harris and Ben Simmons are still out. Bruce Brown is out with a non-COVID illness, Goran Dragic is in health and safety protocols. Seth Curry is questionable with left ankle soreness. Day’Ron Sharpe and David Duke Jr. were recalled from Long Island whose regular season ended Friday night.

John Collins is out with a right finger sprain and right foot strain. Trae Young is probable with right groin soreness. Jalen Johnson is in concussion protocol. Lou Williams is probable with right ankle and lower back discomfort.

The game

Brooklyn got game one in November and game two in December. This is the last regular season meeting between the two teams.

Standings watch! With five games left to go before the play in, we’ve gotta start paying closer attention to what everyone else is doing. The Hornets are first up at 12:30 p.m. as they hit the road to take on the Philadelphia 76ers. The Cavs go second as they visit the New York Knicks at 1 p.m. Exciting times.

In a good bit of schedule luck, this is the last game outside of New York City the Nets will play until the play-in / playoffs. Being able to rest up at home and avoid travel in the last week of the season could come in handy for this team.

The turnover battle will be critical. The Hawks have coughed it up only 11 percent of the time post All Star break, lowest mark in the league. Conversely, the Nets have turned it over 14.5 percent of the time, fifth highest in the NBA post All Star. To Brooklyn’s credit, they’ve been forcing their fair share of turnovers (fifth best opposing turnover rate since the break). Make no mistake, we are in playoff level situations from here on out, and the Nets have to have to have to make the most out of every possession possible.

The battle of the bigs will be crucial. For Atlanta, Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu man the middle for them. Okongwu in particular has made the most out of his playing time and gives the Hawks solid rim protection and rebounding. Capela has been a solid rim running big since he came over from the Houston Rockets in 2020 and hopes to improve on his play tonight as compared to the previous matchups. For the Nets, we’ll see how they utilize Nic Claxton and Andre Drummond. Assuming the Hawks force a lot of switches, Clax might wind up seeing the lion’s share of important minutes if the game is close late.

Three point shooting will be crucial tonight. Since the break, Brooklyn has allowed teams to shoot 38.9 percent from three point range, third highest mark in the NBA. On the season, the Hawks allow teams to shoot 36.4 percent from downtown, fourth highest in the NBA. ATL is tops in three point shooting on the season overall and Brooklyn is third post All Star break. The Nets offense has found itself, and one person that needs to join the party is Patty Mills. Our old friend, John Schuhmann, shared a concerning statistic on Twitter on Friday:

Eek! The Nets need more from Mills if they want to win and go on a deep run.

As Sixth Men go, you can do a lot worse than Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogie helps keeps things running and is third on the team in scoring for the season. As the Hawks draw closer to the playin, they’re going to need a bit more from Bogdanovic to get the Hawks back into the playoffs.

Kevin Durant’s ankle is a bit sore, but the Reaper is ready to work. He just missed putting the dagger in the Bucks on Thursday, but he’s been fantastic since returning from injury. In the 14 games back, KD has averaged around 30/7/7 on a .521/.388/.942 shooting split. With Collins out, the Hawks have one less option to throw at Durant, so look for Brooklyn to ride their MVP early and often.

Player to watch: Trae Young

You see the growth. Young has gotten better each season he’s been in the league and has grown into the Hawks’ best, most exciting player since Dominique Wilkins. He’s turned it up as of late, averaging 29 points and 10 assists on a .496/.397/.941 shooting split over his last seven games. Young’s jump shooting is his calling card, but he’s a crafty finisher at the rim and has made a career best 61.8 percent of his shots inside of three feet this season. The Nets have given him trouble this season and thrown a variety of looks at him. If they can replicate that success one more time, they’ll be in line to get a critical victory.

Maybe getting out of New York will do his shot some good? Kyrie Irving has struggled since he made his return to NYC after the COVID-19 vaccine mandates made him ineligible for home games. On Thursday night, he finally shot above 40 percent from the field for the first time since the Memphis Grizzlies game, but just barely. He took a lot more paint shots on Thursday, and that is something he’s going to need to do a lot more of coming down the stretch. Those stretches where he’s the only star on the court could be where he hunts for his own shot a bit more. When he’s attacking consistently, he’s impossible to guard and forces opponents into impossible choices.

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