It doesn’t get easier from here. On Sunday night, the Brooklyn Nets wrapped up a too short two game homestand against the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. The game was back and forth for the first three quarters, but Brooklyn went cold in the fourth and OKC handed them their second straight loss.
The San Antonio Spurs are hoping to get back on the good foot. They lost their fifth game in a row after the Sacramento Kings beat them on Sunday night in San Antonio. Once this game wraps up, the Spurs have two days off before they play host to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
Where to follow the game
YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8 PM.
Ben Simmons was a late scratch prior to Sunday’s game due to back soreness. He’s good to return tonight. No Kevin Durant.
Devin Vassell is out due to a left knee procedure. Doug McDermott is questionable with upper back tightness.
Brooklyn won the first game earlier this month.
It’s a difficult transition going from second option to the focal point of the opponent’s strategy. You get more attention, you have more responsibility on your shoulders, and the shots become a lot tougher. This is the reality Kyrie Irving finds himself in as the team navigates the next few weeks without KD. Irving has struggled from the field in the last two losses as he hasn’t gotten above 40% from the field in either game. His three point struggles have returned as he’s gone 3-11 and 1-7 from deep in those games as well.
Curiously, he’s only taken 11 shots inside of six feet in those two losses. The Nets don’t get downhill as much as they should, and Jacque Vaughn has mentioned that the team’s shot diet needs to change to adapt to Durant’s absence. That starts with Irving getting to the rim a lot more than he has been. Kyrie gets a difficult whistle, which partially explains why he has the lowest free throw rate of his career this season. That said, the Nets will need to cook up ways to get him downhill and attacking the basket more.
San Antonio figures to be a good cure for that. The Spurs allow the most field goal attempts in the restricted area per game at 31 a night.
Open shots are the best shots. However, when they aren’t falling, it can be deflating as hell. That was Joe Harris’ experience on Sunday night as he only went 2-8 from three. Some of those misses came late as the Nets tried for one desperate final comeback
That’s rough, but those are the shots you want Harris taking. The Nets will need Harris to maintain his aggressiveness and to keep firing.
If you’re confused by Jeremy Sochan’s free throw routine, don’t be!
Jeremy Sochan’s free throw shooting since switching to one-hand: pic.twitter.com/priwyXy381— Project Spurs (@projectspurs) January 16, 2023
Don’t question the success!
The Spurs are incredibly young, and young teams have a lot of growing pains. The biggest pains for San Antonio come on the defensive end, as they’re allowing a league high 119.5 points per 100 possessions. The defensive issues have been an issue all season long and the youngsters on the team will need to learn how to get better on that side of the ball if they want to grow. After a loss to the Phoenix Suns in December, Brandon Koontz of Pounding the Rock wrote of the team’s woes:
For close to two decades, the Spurs were known as a very, very good defensive team. Their yearly stats may have fluctuated, but teams understood that defense was always going to be a focus. That’s what makes the massive mistakes, rotation failures, and general confusion so frustrating to watch this year. We all get this team is designed to struggle its way to a high lottery pick, but I don’t know that most expected any Pop-coached group of players to be this poor at basic defensive rotation work. It may simply be a byproduct of a team of young players, many of whom are still learning the game, but it feels like more than that. I don’t know if there’s been a shift in the message, new defensive schemes, or a lack of available practice time to get everyone on the same page, but something really looks broken. Opposing shooters have enough time to read War and Peace before putting the shot up.
Growing pains are rough.
Keldon Johnson is the lead guy for the Spurs, but being the lead option comes with its own hiccups. In his last five games, he’s averaged 19 points a game on .387/.214/.886 shooting splits. This is his first time as the number one option on the Spurs, and it takes time to fully develop that comfort needed to be the number one option.
Ben Simmons is back, and the Nets are gonna need him to play with force. When we last saw him, he only took three shots in 32 minutes and committed some bad fouls that took away from his and the team’s rhythm. The Nets need him more than ever and he’ll need to be disciplined and in control tonight.
Player to watch: Jakob Poeltl
As the Spurs head to the trade deadline, the expectation was that Poeltl would be a player heading out the door. However, that may not be the case after all. The latest reporting says that they might be keeping Poeltl past the deadline and have him as a key part of their future. And there’s plenty of good reasons why they’d want him to stick around. Poeltl offers quality rim protection, great rebounding, and is a surprisingly great offensive initiator in the high post. Guys like that are hard to come by, so best believe teams will try and see if they can get him on their squads for the stretch run.
Poetl remains close to Patty Mills who of course spent most of his career in San Antonio. Mills is among several Nets employees with ties to San Antonio, including Sean Marks, Jacque Vaughn, assistant GM Andy Birdsong, assistant coach Brian Keefe and director of coaching analytics Logan MacPhail. Mills, Marks, Vaughn, Keefe and MacPhail all won rings with the Spurs.
Nic Claxton was outstanding once again on Sunday evening. The big fella had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks in 33 minutes against the Thunder. There were plenty of occasions where the Thunder had a shot attempt at the rim, but decided against it when they saw Clax was lurking. It’s a tremendous sign that he is able to intimidate other teams and make them think twice about trying to test him. You got a big fella like him that runs the floor really well, contests everything, can handle guard switches, and can dunk on anybody? Send him to the All Star Game!
From the Vault
The Spurs were back at the Alamodome on Friday night and set a single game NBA attendance record. The Dome has been host to some of the greatest moments in NBA history
And in WNBA news, Maya Moore announced her retirement from the game of basketball on Monday morning. Moore is one of the most decorated players in basketball history as she won multiple championships and gold medals everywhere she played. She's one of the greatest we've ever seen and her next stop is Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
More reading: Pounding the Rock
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- San Antonio Spurs Game Notes - San Antonio Spurs
- Without Kevin Durant again, Nets set to face Spurs - STATS
- San Antonio hosts Brooklyn, looks to end home slide - AP
- Kevin Durant’s absence affecting Kyrie Irving as Nets struggle to close games - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ Ben Simmons expected to return vs. Spurs after back soreness - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- It Might Be Time For The Nets To Dust Off Cam Thomas - Steve Lichtenstein - Steve’s Newsletter
- Nets need Ben Simmons to step up with Kevin Durant hurt - David Vertsberger - SNY
- Jakob Poeltl, Patty Mills ready for mini reunion of Coffee Gang - Tom Orsborn - San Antonio Express-News