Party’s going all night long. On New Year’s Eve, the Brooklyn Nets were hoping to end the year on a high note. They did that and then some after pulling off a wire-to-wire victory against the Charlotte Hornets. The W was their 11th in a row and the team is continuing to climb the East standings. To help describe the run the Nets have been on, I’ll get out the way and hand things over to Shane Calliste of the Nets Man Up podcast:
In the Month of December the Nets— Nets Man Up Podcast (@NetsManUp_) January 1, 2023
Finished with a 12-1 Record and an 11 game Win Streak
Ranked 1st in Offensive Rating (121.4)
Ranked 1st in eFG% (61.6%)
Ranked 2nd in Net Rating (+8.4)
Ranked 10th in Def Rating (113.0)
One of the Best Months in Franchise History pic.twitter.com/4Q4ZjZn1t4
That’s the good stuff.
Ringing in the New Year will be the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich and friends are deep in to the rebuilding process and hope to land a generational prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft. They almost pulled off a magical comeback on Saturday night, but fell one point short to the Dallas Mavericks.
Where to follow the game
YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:30 PM.
Joe Harris missed the road trip with knee soreness. He’s listed as probable for tonight.
Devin Vassell is questionable with left knee soreness. Keita Bates-Diop is out with a non COVID illness.
The thing about young teams is that they turn the ball over a ton. The Spurs currently have the fourth highest turnover rate in the NBA this season and it makes winning even more challenging. If the Nets are able to force turnovers and get out in transition, they’ll get some easy baskets and have the home crowd fully locked in. Everybody’s been celebrating, so why not keep the party going one more night?
The Nets can also make things shake in the paint. The Spurs allow the most shots inside of the restricted area this season at 31 a night. This could be a night that calls for a more aggressive Ben Simmons. Simmons was a bit under the weather on Saturday night, but he toughed it out and played 19 minutes. He’s not on the injury report and having a few days to heal up ought to do him some good.
When do we officially start the Nic Claxton All Star campaign? The league leader in field goal percentage had another banner outing on Saturday night, as he scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked six shots in 33 minutes. Clax’s growth has been one of the biggest developments in the team’s winning streak and his play has been a revelation all season long.
The opposing center is someone Nets fans have had their eyes on for some time. Jakob Poeltl has been one of the best rim protectors in the sport in recent years, and this year he’s worked to expand his offensive capabilities. He’s averaging a career high three assists and is someone that can initiate offense from the high post
Having a good passing big tends to open things up for the rest of their teammates. The Nets visit the Spurs in two weeks, and we’ll see what the chatter surrounding the big guy is by then.
Another day, another chance for Kyrie Irving to paint a masterpiece. Irving had another banner game on Saturday night as he had a cool 28 points, six rebounds, and four assists on a .579/.444/1.000 shooting split. The great thing about Irving is he has a natural sense of when to take a game over. That’s a skill you develop after years of playing in high stakes games, and Irving has helped the Nets to be one of the best teams in the NBA in clutch situations. If this game is close late, you can count on Irving to make something good happen.
Player to watch: Keldon Johnson
This is a season for experimenting, and the Spurs are trying out Keldon Johnson as the lead option on offense. His per game scoring numbers took another leap forward and he’s averaging a career high 21.4 points per game. His shooting splits aren’t the greatest at .423/.353/.742, but at 23 years old, he still has plenty of room to get better. At Pounding the Rock, Jesus Gomez wrote about KJ and said:
There’s not a lot more on offense that really stands out. Johnson is posting up a little more but remains inefficient and somewhat turnover-prone in that setting, according to Synergy Sports. He’s taken a small step back as a pick-and-roll ball handler, but that was to be expected with added responsibility and defensive attention. He’s largely staying away from taking mid-range shots, which is the right idea for now since that’s not an area in which he has traditionally done well and definitely one in which he has struggled greatly this year. He was never a great offensive rebounder, but the move to the wing has made him even less impactful there, which was predictable. Johnson looks very similar to the player he used to be, only less efficient in a bigger role.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. The entire purpose of this season is to help young players figure out what they can and can’t do and work on fixing their weaknesses. There have also been subtle improvements to Johnson’s game that numbers simply can’t capture and deserve their own breakdown. The entire point of doing checkups like this one is to figure out where a player is in their path to reaching their potential, not to determine exactly what their ceiling is, since development is rarely linear.
His growth will help determine the direction of the franchise going forward.
His Team USA teammate will look to keep the party going. Kevin Durant had a fairly chill night at the office on Saturday as he had 23/4/4 on 60 percent shooting from the field in 30 minutes of action. The 30 minutes were the second fewest he’s played this year. Brooklyn has a busy week ahead of them as they’ve got a four game slate, with three of them on the road. Sneaking Durant some rest here and there and getting him an entire fourth quarter off is great for business.
From the Vault
On New Year's Day, it was announced that music legend and Memphis hero, Gangsta Boo, passed away at the age of 43. We could be here all day talking about her greatness and influence, so here’s a good starting point.
More reading: Pounding the Rock
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- San Antonio Spurs Game Notes - San Antonio Spurs
- Nets face Spurs, aim to record 12th straight win - STATS
- Ben Simmons making an underrated impact for red-hot Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Yuta Watanabe keeps on doing ‘everything’ for the Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Ben Simmons earns respect playing sick vs Hornets - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kevin Durant: Nets finally becoming team they envisioned - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- In midst of Doncic onslaught, young Spurs show improvement - Tom Orsborne - San Antonio Express-News