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Brooklyn Nets vs. Portland Trail Blazers preview: A Sunday matinee at Barclays

The Nets play a matinee, and then head to Paris for the NBA Global Games.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Deep breaths. It’s been a lousy few weeks for the Brooklyn Nets. They got fined $100,000 for punting a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. They went winless on a four game road trip. And Nets fans are more restless than usual. Combine that with an elite Oklahoma City Thunder coming into town, and things seemed ominous for the Nets. However, things flipped for the hometown team. Brooklyn put together their best half of the season and did just enough in the second half to hang on and get a much needed victory.

The opponent tonight is fully into their new era. Over the summer, the Portland Trail Blazers said goodbye to Damian Lillard after 11 seasons together. Without Dame, the team has struggled as you would expect. They finished a two-game mini-series against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, and they lost by 36 points ... and Luka Doncic sat!

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Day time affair so we’re getting started after 3:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons. He has now missed 30 games. He has started on-court work with the team’s assistant coaches, hoping to move quickly from 2-on-2 work to 5-on-5.

Robert Williams III is out for the season after suffering a right knee ligament tear. Jabari Walker is out with left knee soreness. Moses Brown is out with a left wrist sprain. DeAndre Ayton is out with right knee tendinitis. Matisse Thybulle is questionable with a right foot sprain. Jabari Walker is questionable with left knee soreness.

The game

The Blazers have a lot of youth on the roster and we’ll get to see it on display this afternoon. Scoot Henderson was taken third overall in last year’s Draft and is finding his way at the guard position. Rookie years are never easy, especially when you join a team that is transitioning to a new era following the departure of a franchise icon. The Blazers have young talent like Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe and this season is all about developing good habits and building skills that will help them throughout their careers. The losses might pile up, but if they’re able to learn good things along the way, it will pay off down the line.

Confidence goes a long way. If you believe it, you can achieve it. That confidence allows you to keep at it, try new things, and power through tough circumstances. Late in Friday’s game, the Thunder went to the Hack-A-Clax strategy, but Nic Claxton breezed through it. After the game, he spoke about it

Claxton was the team’s best player as his 23/13/3/1 line paced the Nets attack. During the road trip, Clax was dealing with a bit of a cold which hindered his play some. Now that he’s back at full strength, his energy and ability to fly all over the court will do the team plenty of good. Without Ayton, the Blazers are missing their best rebounder. That should help the Nets as they look to control the pace and prevent Duop Reath from dominating them on the glass.

The Nets are hoping Cam Johnson is at full strength so they have someone to battle Jerami Grant. Grant is a solid 20 point a night scorer and someone that always draws attention from other teams around trading season. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s only 29 years old and could be someone that takes a team over the top.

Spencer Dinwiddie had a terrific outing on Friday. The lead guard had a terrific game with 23 points and four assists on 7-12 shooting from the field. We’ve talked about Brooklyn needing someone that can break defenses down off the dribble, and in the first unit Dinwiddie’s that guy. If the Nets are to get out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves, they’ll need more of that from Dinwiddie going forward.

Having Dennis Smith Jr back will do wonders for the bench. DSJ had a terrific all around game with 13/12/7/2 in 24 minutes. The Nets need guards that attack the paint and push the tempo as much as possible.

HOWEVER, Mikal Bridges continues his tough stretch as Mark W. Sanchez of the Post noted Saturday:

After a four-turnover, 5-for-13 (from the field), 0-for-5 (from 3), performance, Bridges is shooting just 37 percent and 28 percent, respectively, in his past 14 games. For his first 22 games, the 27-year-old was hitting 49.2 percent of his field goals and 38.7 percent of his 3s.

One other thing to watch for Sunday is the fate of the team’s two non-guaranteed players, Harry Giles III and Trendon Watford. If they are not waived by 5:00 p.m. ET, roughly game’s end, they are guaranteed for the season. On Saturday, the Nets waived Armoni Brooks, their 6’3” shooting guard who was on a two-way. Brooks has the option of continuing to play for Long Island which retains his G League rights. The Nets have until March 15 to replace Brooks.

Player to watch: Anfernee Simons

The general consensus is if you want to go far in basketball, you need someone who can get their own shots. The best teams we remember all had at least one person you could give the ball and trust to get a bucket when you need it. We’ve talked about that with the Nets ad nauseum, and Chauncey Billups feels his team is lacking one as well at the moment:

“On the offensive side, you want to start games and get the ball moving. We don’t have an ‘alpha’-type dude on our team. It just is what it is. We’ve got some helluva players, guys that are going to be All-Stars in this league. But right now, we don’t have that dude that you can throw it to and he’ll get us going for the first four or five minutes of the game. We just don’t have that. So we’ve got to do it collectively.”

Anfernee Simons is the closest approximation to that for Portland, and the young guard is making his way back after being out for a while due to an illness. On the season, he’s averaging around 25 points and five assists a night on 48/38/93 shooting splits, within range of the magical 50/40/90 circle. Simons can heat up at a moment’s notice and has a lightning quick first step that helps him get to the basket...

He’s an incredibly unique player and someone that still has plenty of room to get better.

Yes, Bridges will look to put a solid outing together before the Nets leave for Paris. Although he only went 5-of-13 from the field on Friday night, he did get to the free throw line eight times. Sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you have to press the issue. It pays to be aggressive and make plays that get you in position to score

Even in a slump, the Nets need Bridges to continue being active and finding ways to score. Everyone goes through slumps. How you fight your way out of it can make a big difference.

Regarding the Paris trip: the Nets will fly to the City of Lights after the game Sunday, rest Monday, then have community events on Tuesday and Wednesday including a takeover of Sonny’s Pizza in the city from Monday through Thursday.

The Nets play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday afternoon ET at Accor Arena on the Seine, then fly back to Brooklyn after the game. They will have off Friday and Saturday, then practice Sunday and return to Barclays Center on Monday, January 15, Martin Luther King Day, to face the Heat. Finally, some rest even if accompanied by jet lag.

Our guy, Lucas Kaplan, will cover it all for NetsDaily. In fact, he is the only Nets beat writer credentialed for the game.

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