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3 Takeaways from Brooklyn Nets skeleton crew loss to Cleveland Cavaliers

By the time the Nets game vs. the Cavaliers was done, the fanbase was exhausted, but here’s even more analysis.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

For the third time in as many years, the Brooklyn Nets played an early-to-mid February game that felt rather meaningless. While they didn’t ship out any franchise cornerstones this time around, they did partake in what ended up as a rather active trade deadline for the league.

As a result, their bout tonight vs the Cleveland Cavaliers who made it through the league-wide fire sale without any transactions, felt like an undercard rather than the main event. Nonetheless, the Cavs threw the Nets out of the ring this evening, winning by a 118-95 margin.

Mikal Bridges led the way for Brooklyn with 26 points while shooting 5-13 from deep. However, Nets trade simulator mainstay Donovan Mitchell held the spotlight all night, finishing with 27 points, four assists, three steals, and a slew of ankle-breakers. In this rather odd evening in Brooklyn, even by this team’s standards, here’s what we learned.

Jalen Wilson Passes More Tests

For a second straight game, Jalen Wilson successfully masqueraded as a seasoned veteran. The former Jayhawk getting his first career start likely played into that a bit, but spacing, shooting, and defensive pressure masked his rookie essence more than anything.

Wilson finished with eight points, three dimes, three rebounds, and a steal while shooting 3-of-8 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep. He shot confidently against closeouts and gave very little on the perimeter and when flexed back toward the rim — all the makings of a new coveted 3-and-D wing.

A much needed workhorse for tonight, Wilson logged nearly 40 minutes, eating up the run time left on the table by the vanquished Royce O’Neale, Spencer Dinwiddie, and his injured teammates.

“I give him an extreme amount of credit for using his minutes wisely and putting it in my mind that somehow, some way, I got to put him on the floor,” Jacque Vaughn said of Wilson postgame. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a player, to put that in the coach’s mind.”

Although Sean Marks did not commit to giving Wilson a standard contract when speaking with reporters during halftime tonight, that feels like the expected move given the trajectory of the team and the space available after waiving both Thaddeus Young and Jordan Goodwin. Tonight, Wilson gave himself and the Nets staff more to build on.

Nic Claxton Won’t Get it...But Looks like a DPOY

As a true one-through-five defender, surely no Net was happier about Brooklyn going back to the switch this year than Nic Claxton.

Deploying Clax in the drop earlier this year was like putting an alligator on land. Like Claxton in the paint, gators are still a fearsome predators in grasslands and on the occasional golf course, but not at their most dangerous level. However, when throw them in the water, or put Claxton in a switch defense, the fear factor increases by ten.

Tonight, Claxton was swimming all over the court, defending rim and locking up Cleveland’s speedy guard tandem, at least for as long as he could. Naturally with the Cavs blowing Brooklyn out of the water in the second half Clax’s best defensive sequence came early, but it was one to behold nonetheless.

Less patient Brooklyn fans are likely upset with the how things unfolded for their team today. That’s understandable. But Brooklyn’s apparent commitment to the switch and the consequential re-appearance of DPOY Claxton will give those fans some reason to tune in each night.

It also bodes well for Claxton from a financial situation with him set to become a free agent this summer. While Brooklyn increased their payroll slightly today, things still remain quite flexible for them on the books, setting themselves up to re-sign him. It’s full speed ahead for Brooklyn’s defensive dynamo.

Ben Simmons Looks Free

With the limited Ben Simmons lore at our disposal, it’ll be tough to beat we what got during his first game back when he propelled Brooklyn to an early lead at home, allowing them to coast toward a much needed victor vs the red hot Utah Jazz.

He had his fair share of mishaps this evening, particularly with his lacking aggressiveness in the short roll or turnover department, but when you consider how lax he looked out there, its fair to give this showing a silver or bronze medal.

Ben10 finished just six points while shooting 3-of-4 from the field. He added two assists, a rebound, and poked away a steal. Not exactly a stat line for the ages. It’s certainly not worthy of the $40 Million the Nets are going to pay Simmons this year, but I think we’re past that at this point.

Regardless, I’m basing much of this one the either ridiculed or beloved “eye test” in sports, so analytics guys, I understand if you want to tune out.

For the first time this year, Simmons looked not only willing to take contact, but almost eager for it. His first points of the game came on a coast-to-coast attack where he bullied DPOY finalist from last year Evan Mobley out of the way before flushing a dunk.

Simmons even got into it with the famously chill Jarrett Allen. Not the kind of contact you’d hope for him to take on nor against the guy you want with JA being a fan favorite, but it was contact nonetheless.

Simmons will need to attack the rim rather than the Fro far more often if he’s to improve his play, help the team succeed, and collectively turn his Brooklyn tenure into anything other than what’s felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Having said, that tonight felt like a step in the right direction. You just don’t welcome contact like that, before or after the whistle, with a persisting back issue. Nobody wants tto applaud “baby steps” for a former All-Star who’s played only a fraction of games since coming over two years ago, but that’s all you have at this point.