Tonight, the Washington Wizards visit the last-place Brooklyn Nets as the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed that’s running on an 8-2 run over their last ten games. The Nets, in contrast, have dropped ten straight as the team struggles to meet the modest benchmark of even 10 wins this season.
Both squads are coming off of losses, but a loss to the conference overlord Cleveland Cavaliers in an overtime thriller is perhaps a better loss (if there is such a thing) than a failed comeback attempt against the struggling Charlotte Hornets. What makes matters worse for Brooklyn is that they don’t often thrive on the second night of a back-to-back, but at least Caris LeVert will return after missing two games with knee soreness.
On the flipside, this could perhaps be one of the few Nets upsets we see this season. Kenny Atkinson typically doesn’t overplay anyone on his roster, as Bojan Bogdanovic’s 31 minutes played leading the team. After seeing a 17-game home winning streak end on Monday against the Cavaliers, the Wizards could be reeling, or more likely, overlooking their opponent. This could very well be a scheduled trap game for the Wizards.
A more likely scenario is, however, that John Wall continuing to tear up NBA defenses. Wall is one of three NBA guards averaging a double-double this season along with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Wall’s 10.4 assists per game only trails Harden (11.4). The Nets, of course, have the NBA’s worst defense and the offense has recently caught up to the defense’s level of futility.
The Wizards are beginning to stand out as a top team in the Eastern Conference while the Nets continue to reinvent rock bottom during this lowly season. What gives tonight?
3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Wizards:
1. Trey Burke: the 27-point man?
The last time these two teams squared off, it was Trey Burke who scored a career-high 27 points. After struggling for the majority of his career on the Utah Jazz, Burke has found new life on the Wizards as a back-up to Wall. Though he is averaging a career low in points, Burke has raised his three-point shooting percentage to over 42%. When facing the Nets, role players are subject to have bursts of offense. On December 30th at the Verizon Center, it was Trey Burke, but with the possibility of this game being a blowout early, big games can come from the unlikeliest of sources.
2. Incomplete Games
The Net’s fourth quarter woes have been well documented, but on Tuesday in Charlotte, it was a putrid first half that had the team down by 17 at halftime. Although the team did mount a comeback, putting them at just a 3-point deficit with just 6 seconds left, they ultimately lost. As has been the norm this season, an inability to finish (or in Tuesday’s case, start) games has led to their slow, painful demise this season.
3. A for effort
If anything, it’s worth noting that the Nets have not given up on head coach Kenny Atkinson. The collective character of this team is strong and there’s a level of camaraderie you don’t often see with losing teams. These players didn’t expect to be a contender this season, focusing on culture building as the more immediate goal than a playoff berth.
With a new regime in place and a roster barren of assets, the Nets are looking to be a player-friendly franchise that can attract free agents. As Marks continues to target high-character guys such as Quincy Acy, who famously bought gifts for his former D-League teammates, the table is getting set for acquisition of talent through free agency leading to brighter days in Brooklyn.