Time: 7 p.m. EST
Location: Quicken Loans Arena
Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO
Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM
Wednesday night, the 6-10 Nets are set to face LeBron James and the surging Cleveland Cavaliers. In the midst of carving out a five-game winning streak, the Cavaliers are back to being one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets, on the other hand, are working to re-focus after yet another hard-hitting injury that has ruled their star point guard D’Angelo Russell out indefinitely. While the first half of the Nov. 19 game against Golden State would have had fans worried about the immediate future, the ability for the team to claw back from a 28-point deficit to lose by just seven showed signs that the team is not going to roll over on any given night.
This Cleveland team might be a completely different monster to the one the Nets beat by five points one month ago, and some of that blame could be aimed at the rivals over the bridge. After being down by over 20 points late in the third quarter to the Knicks on Nov. 13, the Cavaliers stormed back to win with confidence and have not dropped a game since. After this game, the Nets will face four western teams in a row in the Blazers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Mavericks, so Cleveland is just the first of many tests for the team in the near future.
To overcome the injury impact to the Nets backcourt leaders, other players will need to continue to step up, specifically that of Spencer Dinwiddie as he takes over the starting point guard duties. Nets fans have seen the collective heart this team has, but sometimes heart is not enough. It will take a combined effort across the roster and some serious shot making for the Nets to walk away from Quickens Loan Arena with the W.
Three things to watch for
1) The Nets’ frontcourt rotation
Timofey Mozgov is now fresh off back-to-back DNP-CDs. If coach Kenny Atkinson does not see Mozgov in the rotation in the near future, this ultimately means that the team may go smaller and park $15 million in salary on the bench.
At this point, the dollar amount does not matter in terms of getting the best out of the core group on a nightly basis, and there will be more minutes to be spread across Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy, Tyler Zeller and the young buck Jarrett Allen.
Booker is also listed as questionable to play with sprained left ankle.
2) Kevin Love
Nets fans have already seen the team struggle with opposing bigs multiple times this season, especially ones that can stretch the floor and shoot threes. With Tristian Thompson out with injury and Kevin Love starting to find his touch over the last few games (three games with 20+ points in his last five outings), he could be a real danger and scouting focus for the Nets.
3) Caris LeVert
With Jeremy Lin down, there was an expectation that Caris LeVert would have to shoulder some of the offensive and ball handling load. Then, with Russell going down, somewhat of the same could be said again.
LeVert had his struggles as both injuries happened, but recently it seems he is starting to hit his stride. Nets fans only have a small sample to judge him with Russell out, but LeVert has been improving recently, dropping 13 points along with four assists against the Warriors. He needs to continue to show confidence and improvement in the minutes Atkinson gives him going forward, and the Nets will need his production against the Cavaliers.