Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Barclays Center
Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports Go
Listen: WFAN 101.9 FM, 660 AM
Tonight is the second night of a back-to-back for the Nets as they play the reigning Eastern Conference champions Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets are coming off a disappointing finish in Orlando, where the team led for the majority of the game and couldn’t stop both Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier down the stretch. As a result, Brooklyn goes into this game with a season tally of 2-2. The Nets will be looking for some home cooking tonight heading back to Barclays Center where they have yet to lose a game this season.
There was positivity coming into this season for a range of reasons, but also when the Nets schedule was released, a quick glance showed the first 10 games saw the Nets matching up with only two teams that made the playoffs the season before. One of those teams is the now rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, the other is tonight’s matchup with the Cavaliers.
Despite being 2-2 and failing to get the job done in those two losses, this will be Brooklyn’s first real test against elite competition in the NBA. The average age of the Cavs is 30.1 years old, compared to the Nets at 26.0. The two teams are clearly at opposite ends of their rebuild, but despite this, the Nets have been playing with high energy and trust each other. The Cavs haven’t started the season as convincingly as they would like, despite a 3-1 record. They dropped an early game to last night’s Nets opponent in the Magic and unconvincingly beat the Bulls. Still, LeBron James has been his same self in the young season, averaging a touch over 27 points per game.
The Nets are yet to hold a team to under 100 points in a game, and it’s hard to see that changing in this one. Defense is something the team will need to improve on, and to give the Nets a chance at improving on the opening four games, it will need to happen.
Three Things To Watch For
The Cavs starting five has been in flux given the injury to Derrick Rose coupled with Dwayne Wade now coming off the bench. While they have the capacity and willingness to play Kevin Love at center and go small, the Cavs may try to exploit the Nets’ lack of backcourt strength and go big like what we saw against the Bulls. This may also mean a lot of point guard James, proving again he can do almost anything, dropping 13 assists in last night’s game. James’ strength may prove to be a real matchup issue for Brooklyn, as it does with basically every team that faces him.
Building on the above point, while the Nets will most likely want to play active team defense with quick switching, RHJ may be tasked as being the one to pick up the assignment on LBJ whenever possible. As Brooklyn’s best defender, the Hyphen has shown early that he has become a difference maker on the offensive end as well, getting to the line for an impressive 20-of-22 attempts from the free throw line across the first four games. The Nets will need more of the same tonight if they are to compete against the Cavs.
The Nets have had a lot of turnovers to start the season, a combined 72 for the first four games with at least 16 in each. Turnovers come with being a young team trying to find an identity, as well as a by-product of a fast tempo style that Kenny Atkinson is running. Given this context, some of these can be forgiven, but where the Nets desperately need to improve are the turnovers due to lack of concentration or poor floor spacing. This is where the abundance of travels take place, as well as turnovers as a result of over dribbling and errant passes late in the shot clock. The Nets need to take care of the ball in order to defeat the Cavs and get a record back above .500, a place that feels foreign for Nets fans but was much appreciated for that small window when the team was 2-1.