As we and others have written, the Nets early schedule is tough. More than half of the first 20 games, 11 to be exact, are on the road. There are five back-to-backs and a five game in seven day stretch.
And a lot of the Nets’ crucial early games are what might be called “statement” games, ones that are just big or harken back to last season’s failings. How the Nets react to these games could tell the tale of the season.
The 2021-22 NBA campaign was an absolute roller coaster ride for the Brooklyn Nets. It was filled with more off-court drama than actual on-court festivities. With a busy offseason ending and new players — several coming off injuries, no one knows what to expect from the new look Nets.
With that being said, here are five key matchups on Brooklyn’s schedule that fans will be following early to see if their team can make a statement early.
Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo has cemented himself as one of the league’s best players usurping that role from Kevin Durant at least in some pundits’ minds. As for his Milwaukee Bucks, they have proven themselves as a champion team …when they are fully healthy. Many have Milwaukee coming out of the East for that exact reason. When the Nets go out on the road to play the Bucks on October 26 in Fiserv Forum, this will be the perfect test for Brooklyn in the early stages of the season. If the Nets want to come out of the East next year, there’s a big chance Milwaukee will stand in the way of that.
Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia Sixers
Make no mistake. This is THE statement game early. Nets star Ben Simmons has not returned to Philadelphia since getting traded to Brooklyn back in February … other than to watch Brooklyn destroy their division rivals 129-100 last March 10. There’s no doubt that Sixers fans will give the Australian a heated if not warm welcome when he gets on the floor November 22 at Wells Fargo Center. The first chapter of the feud between Simmons and his former teammate Joel Embiid will be written up as well in this matchup. Two seasons ago after losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Embiid notably threw Simmons under the bus for a decision he made on a play during the fourth quarter.
The Sixers big man had this to say in the postgame interview.
“Man, I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when we had an open shot, we made one free throw and we missed the other.”
To add insult to injury, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers also threw the three-time All-Star under the bus. “He struggled from the free throw line and that became a factor in the series,” said Rivers. There’s no doubt about that.”
The Sixers head coach was then asked if he thought Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team. He answered by saying, “I don’t know.”
During a recent interview on The Old Man & The Three, the former Sixers guard admitted that he didn’t feel like he had support from his teammates or the franchise. One of the hosts of the podcast and former teammate of Simmons, JJ Redick, responded saying, “Call it like it is. You know that I like Joel. You know that I like Doc … They essentially threw you under the bus after Game 7.” In agreement, Simmons replied saying, “For sure. For sure.”
The tension between Simmons and his old teammates will surely be felt in this game, but to raise the stakes, the Sixers are also a contender in the East. Brooklyn will have to focus on making a statement in this game to set the tone for the rest of the season. There’s a chance that these two teams will match up down the line come playoff time.
Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics
Boston humiliated the Nets last year in the playoffs. They swept Brooklyn and held Kevin Durant to his second worst shooting percentage in a postseason at 39 percent. The Celtics would eventually make it out the East to play in the Finals. They look to pick up where they left off as one of the favorites to win it all going into the new campaign after falling short against the Golden State Warriors. If the Nets do not figure out how to beat Boston, a repeat of last season could happen. Getting familiar with the reigning Eastern Conference champions on December 4 in Brooklyn is a must.
Brooklyn Nets vs Golden State Warriors
The defending champions will face the Nets on December 21 at Barclays Center. At this moment in time, especially with James Wiseman coming back, it looks like the Warriors will find themselves in the Finals again. It’s something that the Western Conference is already used to. Brooklyn will be able to gauge how good they really are during this matchup.
The game will also renew talk of whether the Warriors were smart to pass on KD when he was available this summer. There were, as Steph Curry noted, internal discussions about a deal, but nothing came of it.
Brooklyn Nets at Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are contenders going into the new season. Just ask him. It took seven games between Miami and Boston to settle who would go to the Finals in last year’s playoffs. As the top seed of the East a season ago, the Heat will force the Nets to prepare for this matchup with the Heat on January 8 at the FTX Arena. The possibility of these two teams meeting each other down the line in the playoffs is high as well.
The Heat also took a different tack from most contenders. They stayed mostly stable this summer, prioritizing continuity. Will it work?