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Brooklyn Nets vs. Houston Rockets preview: The road trip ends

One more chance to salvage this road trip after losses in Washington, Oklahoma City and last night in New Orleans.

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

It’s getting kinda hazy. The road trip continued as we rolled into 2024, but it appears the Brooklyn Nets forgot to clock in to work. They had another disastrous outing and were run off the court by the New Orleans Pelicans last night. In fact, the Nets never led in the game and trailed by 20+ points for most of the game. Welcome to 2024!

The opponent tonight has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA this season. Led by Ime Udoka, the Houston Rockets have exceeded a lot of people’s expectations and have a pretty good chance to make the playoffs. They helped the cause by beating up the Detroit Pistons on New Year’s night in Houston.

Where to follow the game

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

Injuries

No Ben Simmons. No Lonnie Walker IV ... yet.

Dillon Brooks is out with a right oblique strain. Victor Oladipo is out with a left patella tendon injury. Tari Eason is questionable with left lower leg soreness.

The game

It takes time for young players to find their groove. Young players, and young guards especially have it tough in the early stages of their careers. The defenses they’re seeing now are miles ahead of what they saw in the amateur ranks. The level of responsibility on their shoulders is up tenfold. And if you aren’t able to show enough good signs early, it leaves fans wondering if you can reach your star potential. That’s where Rockets guard Jalen Green finds himself currently.

Taken second overall back in 2021, Green has scored a bunch, but when you dig into it, it doesn’t look great. The field goal percentage numbers aren’t where you’d like it to be for a guard who takes a lot of shots. The turnover numbers are a bit high. And from the outside looking in, it appears he hasn’t made the leap to stardom Houston fans were hoping for. Over at The Dream Shake, James Piercey asked if Green is a lost cause:

We don’t know. At a base level, it doesn’t look good. Green does not project to be a star player. That’s just a fact. Odds change in real time. A team may enter a game as the favorite, but if they’re down by 15 with six minutes left, guess what? The smart money is on the other team now.

Green is down 15 with six minutes on the clock. It isn’t over yet, but he’s going to have to work overtime. His margin for error has narrowed significantly. The Rockets need to know what they have soon. If Green was extension-eligible at this moment, you’d let him hit restricted free agency. You’d likely retain him on a one-year prove-it deal in the vicinity of what? $5 million?

Pain.

It helps to be patient, but at what point does that patience run out?

The Nets need a stronger outing from Cam Thomas tonight. Like most everyone on the Nets, he had a rough night at the office as he went a career worst 0-of-11 from the field and most of his shots were of high difficulty

The Nets don’t generate enough easy buckets, and thus the job becomes infinitely harder for Thomas when he gets into the game.

To that point about easy buckets, when the Nets offense is humming the way it’s supposed to, we see shots like this:

All eyes are on Mikal Bridges as he tries to right the Brooklyn ship. Even amidst the bad stretch of play, he’s maintained a sense of optimism and is still trying to push forward. A win tonight would go a long way in calming the fanbase and bringing good energy back to the team. All it takes is one win to get things back in order.

We also get to say hello to an old friend of ours! Jeff Green is still in the game and still doing stuff like this

He rules.

What doesn’t rule is the effort level for the Nets right now. I thought that the punt game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks was the big cause of their troubles, but Doug Norrie of Locked on Nets made an observation that snapped me back into reality:

Not what you’re trying to see if you’re a Nets fan or in the Nets organization.

Brooklyn needs a much better outing from Spencer Dinwiddie tonight as well. Like Thomas, Dinwiddie went scoreless on the night as he went 0-6 from the field in 21 minutes. Lucas made this observation last night during the game

For a Nets team that loves to shoot threes, if opponents don’t respect your pick and rolls and can easily get back to your spot up shooters, you’re in for a long night of basketball. The Nets have a lot to figure out, and they’ll have to do it against a top six defense in the league this season. Good luck.

Also note this: the game could have implications for how high the Rockets will pick in the 2023 Draft. Clutch Fans out of Houston explains...

Just to make you feel all the more anxious.

Player to watch: Alperen Sengun

Big Goon! Sengun has been terrific this season and should get some All Star consideration. I saw this awesome tweet from Brett Usher that highlighted the great run Sengun is on right now

Udoka has been hard on his big as he pushes him to the best version of himself. That said, Sengun has been an integral part of the Rockets defensive success thus far as James Piercey explained at TDS in November:

In reality, the Rockets are swarming opponents on the perimeter. They’re taking away as much air space as they legally can from any given shooter. They’re switching, communicating and putting in the extra effort to close out. If you’re watching this team, you know that there’s a reason why opponents are shooting poorly from long range against them. It extends far beyond dumb luck.

This all starts with Alperen Sengun. Udoka is deploying him much differently than Silas ever did. Where Sengun had to sink or swim (and typically, he sunk) in deep drop coverage last season, he’s defending at the level this year. He’s hedging and recovering. Sengun has quick hands, and he’s using them to disrupt ball-handlers. He’s also developed a knack for walling off ball-handlers before they can even get to the tin.

Impressive!

Nic Claxton will try to bounce back. It was a quiet night for Claxton as he only grabbed three rebounds in 23 minutes of work. For Brooklyn to have any success, they have to own the boards in a major way. Last night, the Pelicans outrebounded them by 10 as the Nets were never truly in the ballgame. They’ll need to set the tone starting on the defensive end, and that starts with Claxton. He should have a bit more energy in the tank. Typically, the energy levels are down for the last night of a road trip. However, this has been an awful trip for the Nets and they need a win in the worst way. They should be up to the challenge tonight.

From the Vault

A few days ago, the amazing Mirin Fader announced that she will be publishing a biography on Hakeem Olajuwon this Fall! We all know what The Dream can do, but in case you forgot

More reading: The Dream Shake, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic,