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Brooklyn Nets vs. Portland Trailblazers preview: Nets back on the road

The Nets need a win in the worst way. They head to Portland to begin a three game road trip.

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

When you watch a team for long enough, you start to notice when it looks like they’re starting to let go of the rope. They let go of leads they shouldn’t. They make mistakes they shouldn’t. Frustration mounts, and so do the losses as well. And to top it off, every decision or indecision is second guessed in the moment and among the fans and even the players themselves. Put it all together, and it makes for a toxic, toxic brew.

The Brooklyn Nets had a solid halftime lead against a Miami Heat team on the second night of a back-to-back on Monday night. However, the Nets couldn’t seal the deal and lost a one point heartbreaker in overtime. The Nets have lost three games in a row and eight out of their last nine. Their grip on the rope is starting to loosen.

The opponent tonight is back home after a long stretch away. The Portland Trail blazers are looking towards the future and are hoping they have the young talent that can get them back to respectability. They last played on Sunday evening and lost a surprisingly close game to the Phoenix Suns.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Late night so we getting started after 10:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons or Day’Ron Sharpe. Lonnie Walker IV is still on a minutes restriction.

Shaedon Sharpe was diagnosed with a lower abdominal strain on Monday and will be reevaluated in two weeks. Robert Williams is out for the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee. DeAndre Ayton has been out for a while with right knee tendinitis, but is listed as probable for tonight. Malcolm Brogdon is questionable with right adductor soreness.

The game

Portland won the first meeting. As it happens, that’s the last game the Blazers have won.

When you lose, the vultures start to circle around your roster. So far, the Nets don’t appear to be interested in tearing this roster down. However, if the losses keep piling up, maybe things will change. Time will tell.

Someone who might be running out of time is Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s struggled with his shot the past three games, been benched down the stretch of games, and has only crossed the 30 minute threshold once since the calendar flipped to 2024. It’s not unreasonable for him to seemingly be frustrated and post out loud. When he does touch the court, the Nets need him to be aggressive and making good things happen. If not, he’ll continue to find himself on the bench frustrated as Dennis Smith Jr gets more of his minutes.

Speaking of DSJ, we’ll see how the Nets deploy him against Anfernee Simons. Simons burned the Nets to the tune of 38 points and 11 assists last week, and when the Nets decided to trap him late in the game, they paid for it

Our own Collin Helwig chatted with our pals over at Blazers Edge about this matchup and said:

“Dennis Smith Jr. vs Anfernee Simons is a classic defense vs offense matchup I look forward to. Smith Jr. resembles one of the game’s best on-ball defenders and is fresh off a four-steal performance vs Miami. As for Simons, we all saw what he’s capable of last time out. As long as Vaughn lets Smith Jr. guard Simons one-on-one unlike last time out, we should get some fun sequences.”

The Nets defense has to get back on the right track, and their connectedness will be tested when they have to guard Simons.

I always enjoy when I get to chat with New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello, and if you talk to her long enough, she’ll mention going from “paint to great.” Basically, if you attack downhill and continue to get two feet in the paint, everything else will open up for you. Three pointers early in the clock are tempting and will always be there, but if you don’t look to attack the basket, you’re unintentionally short-circuiting yourself. The Nets missed a franchise record 43 three pointers on Monday night, and a lot of them came early in the clock and off of only one pass:

Yeah, you gotta do better than that. Before this extended slump, the team talked about getting into the paint more often. They need to get back to that ASAP.

As a team, the Blazers have struggled at the rim this month. They are only shooting 52.9 percent inside of the restricted area this month, second worst in the NBA. That should improve with the return of DeAndre Ayton. Injuries have made Ayton’s debut in Portland a forgettable one, but there’s still plenty of time for him to get back to the business of Dominayton. In the meantime, he’ll do battle with Nic Claxton on the inside. Clax has to do more with Sharpe out, and he played a season high 42:35 on Monday.

Player to watch: Scoot Henderson

For lottery picks, the first season is a culture shock for a variety of reasons. The level of competition jumps by a million, you’re playing more basketball, and you’re taking a lot more losses than you’re used to. And when you join a team transitioning into a new era, the losses become even more stark. Scoot Henderson spoke about that and said:

It never hurts to learn on the job. He’s coming off a career high 33 points on Sunday, but it took him 31 shots to get there. That’ll improve over time, but you love the aggressiveness early. Keep firing.

Cam Thomas is coming off the bench, but he’s one of the only Nets that’s providing scoring punch these days. Although he struggled in the second half, his confidence and ability to get downhill is a godsend for a Nets team that has been stuck in the mud. The Nets have a lot of questions to answer before the end of February, and a key one is whether they will fully give Thomas the opportunity to learn on the job and grow into the player they want him to be. That learning comes with heavy minutes and an understanding that he’ll make mistakes along the way.

From the Vault

We’re celebrating birthdays! First up, Sade!

And we can never forget Aaliyah!

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More reading: Blazers Edge, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic, Rip City Project