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Brooklyn Nets vs. New Orleans Pelicans preview: Welcome to 2024!

New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A sour way to end 2023. The Brooklyn Nets put up a good fight against the excellent Oklahoma City Thunder, but that wasn’t enough as OKC pulled away in the second half on New Year’s Eve. The loss was the third in a row for the Nets and while they’re still in the play in standings, things are getting more difficult by the day.

The opponent tonight is looking to take a step forward. The New Orleans Pelicans are solidly in the playoff race, but are trying to be more than just a play in/playoff team. They ended 2023 on a high note by beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday evening.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons. Lonnie Walker IV has been making progress, but won’t be back tonight. Maybe Wednesday vs. Houston? Dorian Finney-Smith is probable with left knee soreness.

Trey Murphy III is questionable with left knee soreness. Matt Ryan is out following right elbow surgery.

The game

With this being the start of a road back-to-back, we’ll see how the Nets manage their rotations. They’re not gonna pull the antics they did last week vs. the Milwaukee Bucks and they need a win in the absolute worst way.

Brandon Ingram keeps keeping on. The former and future All Star leads the team in scoring at 23 a night and is one of the most proficient operators in the midrange area. As it happens, BI is a tremendous finisher at the rim and shoots 73.6 percent when he’s down there. Against great players like Ingram, you have to pick your poison. For the Nets,

Brooklyn’s own midrange maestro will look to make something happen. Mikal Bridges struggled after halftime against the Thunder, but in the first, we saw what can happen when the offense is in a good space

More off ball movement, more timely cuts, more buckets.

Murphy might be back, and the way he’s utilized by the coaching staff in New Orleans has been a big point of contention. At In the N.O., Shamit Dua wrote about that problem:

“We are now in year three, and the inconsistency with Murphy’s playtime and usage are as present as ever. There is an outstanding lack of intention on display. Normally when a team has player that is as ultra efficient as Murphy and can clearly handle a greater possession usage, the team deploys all their resources in figuring out how far the efficiency stretches. All players have a usage to efficiency curve, and at some point, high usage leads large drop offs in efficiency. There is, however, a sweet spot - a spot that the Pelicans have made zero efforts to discover with Trey Murphy.”

As Nets fans will tell about their own 2021 first round draft pick, you have to figure out ways to make the most out of a young, talented player and put them in position to succeed.

Player to watch: Zion Williamson

Shaquille O’Neal is one of the greatest basketball players to ever grace the hardwood. Shaq has done just about everything imaginable on the court and has accolades as long as his arm. Sometimes O’Neal gets criticized for being too harsh on players, but he tends to do it from a place of love. Following the Pelicans’ disastrous loss to the Lakers in the In Season Tournament semifinals, the big fella had this to say

Since then, the Pels have started to right the ship as they’ve gone 7-3 over their past ten games. After Sunday’s game, Williamson spoke about that IST experience:

“It was one of those blessings in disguise. It sucked. We went to Vegas hoping for a different outcome. I think it definitely brought us together more as a team. It definitely brought us closer as a staff. Everyone communicating. I feel like we have been playing great. We still have some things to figure out. But so does every other team.”

Since that game, Williamson has averaged around 23 points and eight rebounds on 60% shooting from the field. He’s a bully on the interior and is still hell on wheels when he’s attacking the basket. For opponents, trying to slow him down when he’s going full speed is a nightmare and a half.

Nic Claxton will look to put a good outing together against his fellow lefty. Clax had himself a night with 15/16/5/1/1 on Sunday night. The Nets need the big guy to do that and plenty more if they want to snap this current streak. The Nets need a great night of rim protection, and the duo of Claxton and Sharpe (need to come up with a snazzy nickname for them one of these days) will try to keep Williamson and friends from living at the rim. On the other end, we’ll get to see Claxton showcase more of his burgeoning skills

Fun, fun stuff!

From the Vault

Here’s a great way to walk into the new year

More reading: The Bird Writes, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic, In the N.O.