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Brooklyn Nets. vs Phoenix Suns preview: Kevin Durant returns to Brooklyn

KD returns to Brooklyn as the Nets try to win third straight.

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Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Didn’t see that coming. The Brooklyn Nets hosted the Utah Jazz on Monday night at Barclays Center, and had one of their best offensive outings of the season, if not ever, as they dominated Utah and cruised to a 33 point victory.

The opponent tonight is on the upswing. After a bit of a rough start, the Phoenix Suns are solidly in the playoff picture and hoping to go deep into the postseason. They helped the cause by beating the Miami Heat on the road Monday evening.

Where to follow the game

ABC and YES Network are the places to be. WFAN on radio. Relatively late tip off time of 8:30 PM.

Injuries

No Day’Ron Sharpe, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dariq Whitehead ... and Ben Simmons. Simmons was listed as probable with a left knee contusion but late Wednesday morning, he was downgraded to questionable then declared out in late afternoon.

Bol Bol is questionable with a right foot sprain. Damion Lee is out following right meniscus surgery. Grayson Allen is questionable with a right ankle sprain. Bradley Beal is available with a nasal fracture.

The game

Brooklyn won the first game.

We’re starting on a sad note. Yesterday, the former managing editor of Bright Side of the Sun, Dave King, passed away at the age of 56 due to stage IV melanoma. Tributes rolled in as fans and writers across the NBA world remembered their friend and colleague. The Suns organization put out a statement as well

On behalf of everyone here at NetsDaily, sending love and light to Dave’s friends, family, and loved ones.

Road trips are always exhausting. You’re far away from home, you have to travel every day, and don’t have much time to rest. This is the fifth game of Phoenix’s seven-game road trip and third game in four nights. Once the Suns finish up here, they’ll be visiting the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards to close out their road trip. Who do they face when they get back home? The Milwaukee Bucks! The road doesn’t get any easier from here.

The battle between No. 1s will be incredibly fun. Phoenix’s No. 1, Devin Booker, has been on an incredibly scoring run recently as he had 44, 62, and 46 point scoring outbursts. Book is one of the smoothest players in the game and is a picture perfect scorer

Whew! Booker had a substandard (for him) game of 22 points on Monday, but he still chipped in eight rebounds and seven assists, one block, and one steal along the way. The Nets defense has been pretty solid in January, and they’re going to need to bring everything they’ve got to slow the All-Star down. Thankfully for the Nets, they aren’t playing drop defense any more because if they were, Booker would have an easy night at the office.

Mikal Bridges will look to put on a show in primetime against his former team. With Grayson Allen less than 100%, the Suns have one less player they can throw at their old friend tonight. That should help Bridges get to his spots on the court and light it up from three point range. With Cam Thomas in the starting five, Bridges doesn’t have to take on all of the scoring load, which makes for a less stressful day at the office for him.

The matchup at center will be pretty intriguing. Jusuf Nurkic is the fourth option on the Suns, but his passing from the high post keeps things moving and gets his teammates in great scoring position. He’s also a bear on the glass and someone that isn’t afraid to mix it up with people when they try it with his teammates. He’ll do battle with Nic Claxton and try to keep him off the glass. Clax has grabbed 10+ rebounds in every game but one this month and has been a presence on both sides of the ball.

Player to watch: Kevin Durant

A friendly face back in a familiar place! KD is back at the ‘clays for the first time. It should make for a pretty exciting evening on ABC. At the very least, it will hopefully be less hostile than what he and his family dealt with when he’d go back to Oklahoma City.

I asked Stephen Garner of Bright Side of the Sun about KD’s time in the Valley, and he told me:

“Kevin Durant’s time in Phoenix has been impressive. I think most are aware of just how prolific of a scorer he is. I do not think the masses are as aware of just how he unlocks things for a team past just scoring for himself — which is where I have landed with providing film sessions and written content detailing so.

“An example, here.

“The abundance of spacing, primary and secondary playmaking, and advantage generation he creates are endless. Plenty of actions where he touches the ball, offense stops. That’s not because he’s a ball hog, but because of the attention it garners, which serves as an advantage for his teammates to play in — which allows the result that a team would want running any given set/action.

“The depths of defensive activity he provides are all invaluable layers that this Suns team was missing from the frontcourt before him. He provides a piece that defenses have to account for and leaves them compromised.

“As far as where I see his game evolving next, I feel that this Suns team is optimized when he is active defensively. Leaning even more into the versatility he provides, and dictating to opponents with their defense. Over the last eight games, there is an abundance of examples of just that.”

Sounds like the KD we know from his time in Brooklyn! In return games, there’s always a temptation for a player to hunt for their shots and dominate the stat sheet. Durant tends to get his offense within the flow of the things, so don’t look for him to force the issue in any noticeable way.

So, Ben Simmons is back, and looked pretty good! Simmons had 11 assists, ten points, and eight rebounds off the bench on Monday night and gave the Nets the shot of energy they needed to get their fastbreak attack moving. When Simmons is on, the Nets play faster and he can get his teammates to the right spots on the court. He still needs to be assertive and playing with force when he’s at the basket, but that’s something the Nets hope he will fix the more reps he gets on the court. Tonight would be a great place to start.

And if you’re wondering about the tribute video, the Nets normally show them at the end of the first quarter. And, no, James Harden didn’t get one, but Joe Harris did.

From the Vault

One of the greatest nights of basketball in New York City and NBA history

More reading: Bright Side of the Sun, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic, Valley of the Suns PHNX Sports