The Brooklyn Nets have run through the league with relative ease in the P.J. Carlesimo era. They’re 12-2 in their first 14 games under Carlesimo, but face one of their biggest tests in a long while tonight, facing off against the 27-14, full-strength Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have won not with their offense, but with defense — they’re the 2nd-best defensive team in the league and the best at defending the isolations, thanks to wing defenders like Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, and Mike Conley. The Grizzlies have only lost three games to Eastern Conference opponents all season.
This is the Nets’ toughest test since they faced the Oklahoma City Thunder at the beginning of Carlesimo’s tenure… and they blew them out. So tonight’s certainly a toss-up.
Here’s three things to watch tonight after the jump.
Three Things to Watch
1) Brook Lopez getting involved off the ball. This is an important matchup for one-on-one ballhawkers — the Nets, with the 2nd-most efficient isolation offense, facing the Grizzlies, the team with the best isolation defense. Granted, just forcing offenses into isolations is usually a victory in and of itself, since they usually result from either a staunch defensive possession that cut off all other options or offensive laziness.
The Grizzlies, however, have struggled defending cuts and dump-downs, allowing 1.18 points per possession on cut plays (that’s a lot). Conversely, Brook Lopez has scored more points off cuts than any player in the league, even after missing seven games. Much of these points come from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson looking to create offense, then finding Lopez in the lane for a close hook or behind an unsuspecting defense for an easy layup or dunk.
If the Nets take those drives to the basket and look to score over double-teams, they may be in for a world of trouble. But if Lopez finds those open spaces, and Williams/Johnson find him, there are some easy points to find.
2) Gerald Wallace vs. Rudy Gay. Gay has become a popular trade target in recent weeks, and for good reason. He’s a talented, athletic forward on a big contract who can score and defend in the midst of a down year. The Nets have been loosely floated as a trade suitor for Gay, and though I don’t expect anything to happen on that front, it’s still an opportunity to see the Nets’ current small forward battle one they’re allegedly interested in acquiring.
3) Battle inside. Marc Gasol & Zach Randolph are two of the best big men in the league for varying reasons — Gasol is a smart high-low player who ranks third on the Grizzlies in assists per 36 minutes, while Randolph is a low-post banger who’s reinvented himself as an efficient double-double machine (key word: efficient) in Memphis. He’s not particularly long or athletic, though, which makes him the type of forward Reggie Evans can normally check with some success.
Gasol vs. Lopez is another monster entirely, and frankly I don’t know what to expect between these two. Gasol’s big enough to keep Lopez from backing down, and the numbers show it — he’s allowed just 70 points on 113 post-up plays this season, according to Synergy, ranking him sixth among all players who have defended at least 50 post-up plays. Lopez, of course, is one of the league’s best post players, but to best attack Gasol’s weaknesses, he may be better served looking for quick put-backs (Gasol is a poor rebounder) and layups off cuts (as mentioned above).