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Nets welcome Cavaliers to Barclays Center for big game

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Philadelphia 76ers v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Wake yo ass up! The Brooklyn Nets spent the first half of the game on Wednesday against the New York Knicks playing lethargic, nasty, unserious basketball. However, they got to work in the second half and pulled away with a double-digit win against their crosstown neighbors. The team currently resides in eighth place and their play-in fate is solely in their hands. Get to work.

The opponent tonight will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. As Nets fans can tell you, injuries are hell. Unfortunately for Cavs fans, their team is going through it in a major way and J.B. Bickerstaff’s guys have struggled as a result. They’ve been off since Tuesday after losing to the Orlando Magic on the road.

Where to follow the game

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

Injuries

Joe Harris and Ben Simmons are out. Goran Dragic is in health and safety protocols but getting better. Seth Curry is probable with his left ankle injury. James Johnson was waived Thursday, likely meaning Kessler Edwards will have his two-way deal converted to a standard NBA deal, probably Friday. Question now is whether the Nets will add a second two-way for the last two games of the regular season.

Collin Sexton is out. Our guy Jarrett Allen is out. Evan Mobley, the likely Rookie of the Year, is questionable with a sore ankle, but is likely to play, per local reports.

The game

Brooklyn took game one in November while Cleveland took game two in January. This is the last regular season meeting between the teams.

Biggest game of the year? You can make the argument. If the Nets win, they will move into the seventh seed with both teams having one game left, Brooklyn vs. Indiana, Cleveland vs. Milwaukee (who may have something to play for.) The Nets would have home advantage in the 7/8 game vs. the Cavs Tuesday. If they lose, there are more — but lesser — scenarios.

The Nets would seem to have a number of advantages going into the game. They have won six of the last ten, compared to the three that the Cavs have won and they’re playing at home, coming off an emotional win over their crosstown rivals. And they have Kevin Wayne Durant. Over that 10-game stretch, KD is averaging 33.2 points a game that includes six games of 30 or more points. He’s also shooting 53/43/93 and recording eight rebounds, seven assists and better than a block a game.

And he is pushing his teammates, not afraid to let them know they have to do better. Ask James Johnson...

That was Johnson’s last minutes as a Nets player. He didn’t play vs. the Rockets and Knicks, the Nets citing a “non-COVID illness.”

Putting aside KD, which of course is difficult, the Nets appear to be in good shape in putting points on the board. Kyrie Irving has been a bit up-and-down over the same stretch — in which he’s played eight games but overall, his numbers are mostly Kyrie-like. He’s averaging 27 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 41/41/97. However, as both Brian Lewis of the Post and our own Matt Brooks have pointed out, Irving is relying more and more on his deep shot than driving to the rim. As Brooks pointed out in a tweet two days ago...

But the Nets are still shooting well as a team for deep and that can cover a multitude of sins. Since the All-Star break, the Nets are tops in 3-point efficiency as they’ve knocked down 39 percent of their shots from deep. And things got better vs. the Knicks. After Seth Curry missed two games to a sore ankle and Patty Mills missed a lot of threes, the two were on fire Wednesday, hitting an encouraging 8-of-14 threes, both winding up with 15 points on the night.

Also after the success Steve Nash had with the small ball lineup in the second half Wednesday, expect less experimentation from now on. KD at the 5? Yup.

For the Cavaliers, this is a must-win as well. Cleveland is in danger of falling to tenth place if they lose to Brooklyn tonight and on Sunday against Milwaukee.

They will, out of necessity, be relying heavily on Darius Garland, their wunderkind point guard. Over the past 10 games, the 22-year-old is averaging a double-double, 24.1 points and 10.1 assists while shooting 43/39/84. But the Cavs have only won three of those games with double digit losses to the Lakers, Raptors and Hawks. On the other hand, they hammered the Knicks a few days before the Nets had a hard time vs. the New Yorkers.

Of course, the Cavaliers are going to rely primarily on their young and don’t have a lot of experience in big, end-of-the-season games.

Player to watch: Caris Levert

Hey, we know him!

Caris LeVert is one of those players who does know how to win in big games. He was a huge factor in the Nets 2018-19 playoff run. Remember his 51-point game vs. the Celtics and his Game 1 performance in the first round of the playoffs that year when he scored 23 points and hit a big shot late, shocking the Sixers.

As our SB Nation counterpart, Fear the Sword, wrote this week, he’s picking up his game as the Cavs struggle toward the finish line ... but it’s n

ot translating as well as B.J. Bickerstaff would like...

LeVert has put up his best scoring numbers with the Cavs since being inserted into the starting lineup last Saturday. LeVert is averaging 17.2 points, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals on .471/.333/.706 shooting splits in his six games as a starter. He has looked much more comfortable offensively. Playing off of Garland has allowed LeVert to be more patient and selective for when to attack off the dribble.

While LeVert has looked more comfortable offensively, him being in the starting lineup hasn’t exactly led to team success. The Cavs were outscored by 14.4 points per 100 possessions in the 205 minutes he’s played in his last six games. Conversely, the Cavs are outscoring their opponents by 23.8 points per 100 possessions in the 83 minutes he’s been off the court.

Of course, a big game at Barclays Center could cure that. LeVert will be looking to remind the Nets and their fans of what they’ve missed since he was traded to Indiana in the original James Harden trade.

From the Vault

The 2017 Cavs really were an incredible team to watch.

More reading: Fear the Sword