Remember: you can grade the players at any time.
The Who/What/Where/When: The Brooklyn Nets take on the Orlando Magic tonight (Friday, November 30th), at Barclays Center in Brooklyn at 7:00 P.M. The Magic are finishing up a five-game road trip tonight that they've split -- winning their first two and losing their last two. The Nets are starting a two-game Florida trip, taking on the Magic tonight and the Miami Heat tomorrow night.
Season standings: The Brooklyn Nets are 10-4, on a four-game winning streak (three wins coming against tough competition), and tied for first place with the Manhattan/New York Knicks. At 5-9, the Orlando Magic rank 4th in the Southeast Division.
TV/Radio: Tonight's game will be broadcast on YES Network. The game will be called on the radio on WFAN, and in Spanish on WADO.
Starters: After four straight games with their standard five -- and four straight victories -- the Brooklyn Nets go into tonight with the news that starting center Brook Lopez will not play on the two-game trip against Orlando or Miami. Lopez has been the team's steadiest offensive contributor. Barring any further injuries, the Nets will start Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and likely Andray Blatche in Lopez's place. The Orlando Magic, who are without Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington generally, will be without Jameer Nelson tonight as well with a sore Achilles. They'll start E'Twaun Moore, Arron Afflalo, Mo Harkless, Glen Davis, and Nikola Vucevic.
Key reserves: The Nets lose a member of their vaunted bench crew to the starting lineup due to Lopez's injury, as Andray Blatche will start for the injured Brook Lopez. Reggie Evans and C.J. Watson will no doubt get their proper minutes, but after that comes a bunch of questions. Jerry Stackhouse is not playing both games of back-to-backs, so which game will he sit? Will MarShon Brooks play more minutes in his place? With Blatche moving up and Lopez out, will Mirza Teletovic see some playing time?
For the Magic, Duke shooter J.J. Redick is still the go-to sixth man on the roster, and the team also gives a fair amount of minutes to power forward Josh "McBob" McRoberts, center Gustavo Ayon, and rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson.
Key Advanced Statistics:
Brooklyn Nets: Offensive rating 103.9 (7th), Defensive rating 100.1 (11th), 90.62 possessions per game (30th)
Orlando Magic: Offensive rating 95.3 (28th), Defensive rating 100.3 (12th), 95.27 possessions per game (8th)
Brooklyn Nets Offense (league rank): eFG% 48.5% (16th), TOV% 15.0% (8th), ORB% 31.1% (5th), FT/FGA .291 (13th)
Orlando Magic Offense (league rank): eFG% 47.1% (22nd), TOV% 16.7% (20th), ORB% 26.3% (18th), FT/FGA .200 (30th)
Brooklyn Nets Defense (league rank): eFG% 48.3% (15th), TOV% 16.2% (12th), DRB% 71.2% (24th), FT/FGA .264 (13th)
Orlando Magic Defense (league rank): eFG% 48.1% (12th), TOV% 14.3% (27th), DRB% 72.9% (15th), FT/FGA .247 (6th)
What the numbers mean: Even without Lopez, which throws these numbers a bit out of whack, the Nets have a significant advantage tonight. The teams are about a wash defensively -- though Noam Schiller was quick to refute that as a long-term success spot for the Magic in our 1-on-1 earlier today -- but the Nets have a significant advantage offensively across the board, most notably in getting to the line and grabbing offensive rebounds.
Pace: The Nets have been stuck in the mud pace-wise -- they've ranked at the bottom of the league for some time now, which contributes to the team allowing the fewest points per game in the NBA despite ranking just 11th in defensive efficiency. They'll face an Orlando Magic team that ranks 8th in the league in pace, using almost five more possessions per game. The Nets have played their fair share of fast-paced teams already this season, and more often than not the game stays slow. Worth keeping an eye on if the Nets ever do push the pace, particularly against an inferior team.
Last time: The Nets and Magic played a back-to-back, home-and-home on the 9th and 11th of November, with the Nets winning both contests -- a 107-68 laugher in Orlando, and an 82-74 slogfest in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn's Backcourt? With Deron Williams and Joe Johnson struggling to find a consistent touch on the floor together, Brook Lopez carried the offense through the first 14 games. Now that he's not available, the team will have to turn to their backcourt. Deron Williams has the ability to make mincemeat of E'Twaun Moore, and Arron Afflalo is a good defender (though his reputation precedes him), but Williams and Johnson have the advantage here. Will they take advantage?
#FreeMirza? With Lopez out, the Nets will have to activate either Tornike Shengelia or Mirza Teletovic. Teletovic would help mitigate the damage more -- as a stretch four, Mirza could see minutes at power forward, allowing Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries to play spot center minutes more easily. Of course, even if the Nets do activate Teletovic, it's no guarantee he'll play.