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Nets continue road trip with visit to Denver

Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Things are looking up (just don’t squint too hard) in the borough. The Brooklyn Nets, following a four-game tumble out of the post-All Star Break gates, are 4-1 in their last five games, taking care of business when they’re supposed to (Houston, Charlotte) and beating playoff teams on the road (Boston, Minnesota). Mikal Bridges can’t stop scoring 30 points a game, even if he wanted to, even if almost none of his buckets are layups. Maybe Brooklyn got to keep some of Kevin Durant’s jump-shooting ability in a jar as a part of their trade with the Phoenix Suns? I don’t know.

Anyway, that last win over Minnesota was a doozy, and exemplary of what this new Nets team has been, so far. They didn’t guard at all in the first half, constantly getting beat on closeouts, or beating themselves with miscommunication. Throughout their 13 games since the trade deadline, the Nets have repeatedly made the nerdiest among us, who all tweeted some variation of, “Hey now, Brooklyn’s defense may be real stingy,” look stupid. Communicating and deciding which assignments to switch on the fly is extremely difficult, but knowing that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch.

However, the Nets put it together for just long enough in the second half to take a 114-111 lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves as the clock neared zero...and then they let out one more brainfart. Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale didn’t know who should guard Naz Reid, so neither of them did, and the Roselle Catholic product nailed a game-tying three at the horn.

Luckily, Brooklyn, on the back of Spencer Dinwiddie, did just enough in OT to put themselves in that same position again, up 124-123 with the clock winding down. This time they got it right, securing that precious final stop, and escaped Minnesota with a much-needed win after essentially punting their prior game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

So yes, things are looking good. The New York Knicks even lost on Saturday afternoon, meaning Brooklyn has re-taken a one-game lead in the loss column for the Eastern conference’s five-seed. Also, on Saturday night, the Heat lost to the Magic, giving the Nets a three-game lead — plus the tiebreaker — over the seven seed.

These good vibes, of course, could all change in a hurry, and not just because that is the nature of the ever-transient NBA. No, it’s because the Nets will face the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, owners of a comfortable lead for the Western conference’s one seed.

Where to follow the game

The usual, YES Network on TV, and WFAN on radio. But we’ve got an afternoon game here, with tip scheduled for just after 3:30 p.m. ET.


No Ben Simmons (left knee/back soreness), but we already knew that. There’s been absolutely nothing, by the way, on his long-term status. Who knows if he even still has a left knee? Other than that, though, no Nets are on the injury report. Rejoice!

For the Nuggets, backup big Zeke Nnaji, fringe rotation player, is out, as well as Collin Gillespie, a fringe-fringe rotation player.

The game

This will be the first meeting between the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets this season; Denver swept the pair of contests last season, which ended a three-game Brooklyn winning-streak in this matchup. The Nuggs hold a 52-44 lead, all-time, though that doesn’t extend back to the ABA, which each franchise was a part of.

Denver is sick, offensively, because Nikola Jokic is sick, offensively. No really, he’s a sick man on that end, having elevated his game to the point that he can toy with the best players in the world. Sometimes he decides not to shoot for a quarter or two, other times he decides not to shoot outside the paint. He gets bored, and why not? Yet again, the Nuggets are an elite offense because he scores, passes, screens, moves, and cuts, up to No. 2 behind the Sacramento Kings in offensive rating.

And while it hasn’t mattered in recent years who Denver surrounds Jokic with, the Joker has his best supporting cast yet. Jamal Murray is averaging 23 points and seven assists over his last twenty games, and is zipping around the court like Jamal Murray. Aaron Gordon had a psuedo-All Star case this year. Michael Porter Jr. has been healthy enough to hit threes, dunk on opponents (and then get ejected for fighting. Well, not really fighting. Skirmish-ing?)

So, yeah, the Nets are going to have to outscore these guys. Claxton is going to have to show up and guard Nikola Jokic as best as he can, hoping to avoid forcing Brooklyn to bring double teams, which the best passer of all time will decimate. (It’s a fun debate, but I think he is.)

The good news for Brooklyn is that Jokic has largely stopped trying on defense since the Nuggets essentially locked up the one-seed. He was clearly passable on that end, largely playing at the level of the screen and racking up deflections, in his last two MVP seasons, but he has decided to chill before the playoffs roll around, this season. The Nuggets largely sit him in a drop, where you certainly wouldn’t mistake him for Brook Lopez:

I’m not doing MVP discourse talk. It’s stupid. But, well, Jokic, even at half-speed (which is quarter-speed compared to most players), is one of the greatest offensive players at all time. He carried Gordon, Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo, and Jeff Green (long live he) to consistent buckets last season, in the regular season and in the playoffs. He’s, as they say, teflon there. If he wins his third MVP, nobody should bat an eye.

But the Nets must attack him on defense, especially when he’s going at this rate. Spencer Dinwiddie must come off of screens with a relentless thirst for paint. It’s a good opportunity for Mikal Bridges to work on getting all the way to the rim, after facing Lopez and Rudy Gobert in back-to-back contests. Basically, if you’re gonna bet on Brooklyn might as well parlay it with the over. They’re gonna have to score.

Don’t forget this either: the Denver roster is filled with former Nets: Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green.

From the Vault

Here’s Kenyon Martin (and other New Jersey Nets) getting chippy with his soon-to-be teammates in a late 2004 game against the Denver Nuggets.

That YouTube channel, by the way, makes me think that the Grand Kenyon probably would’ve been a better nickname for him than K-Mart. A Natural wonder vs. a retail chain? Come on.

More reading: Denver Stiffs.