Brooklyn Nets (8-13) vs. Atlanta Hawks (4-17)
Time: 3 p.m. EST
Location: Barclays Center
Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO
Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM
On Nov. 29, the Brooklyn Nets eeked out a win against the Dallas Mavericks, improving their record to 8-13. On a three-game Western Conference road trip, the Nets secured wins in Memphis and Dallas – despite missing key players in each of the three games. Tuesday’s win was a dramatic victory – a game where the Nets could have lost based purely on a lack of execution. Free throws were missed, and Maxi Kleber (yes, that Maxi Kleber) had a career game. As usual, J.J. Barea was a pest. But through the effort of veterans Trevor Booker and DeMarre Carroll, the Nets notched the 109-104 victory. Booker, especially, was a force on the offensive boards. He quite possibly may have won the Nets the game through his sheer hustle and energy. Saturday, the Nets play a mid-afternoon game back home at Barclays Center against the Atlanta Hawks.
Even without Wookie/big Star Wars fan Brook Lopez (miss ya, Brook), the Brooklyn Nets will celebrate Star Wars day on Saturday afternoon. The first 10,000 fans will receive a complimentary t-shirt. Also, expect some Star Wars themed entertainment throughout the night. Will The Force Awaken for the Nets? Or will the (Atlanta) Empire Strike Back? Enough of that. There’s basketball to be played!
Here are three things to watch for Saturday’s Hawks-Nets matchup…
While the Brooklyn Nets may have struggled to defend big men throughout the season, they could have a frontcourt advantage against the Hawks. Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins are listed as out for Saturday’s game. The two athletic bigs could have made a big difference against the typically undersized Nets. In Brooklyn’s game against the Hawks on Oct. 22, Collins, the exciting rookie, posted 14 points and 13 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Dedmon has been a solid contributor after joining Atlanta in the offseason. Through 20 games, Dedmon has averaged 11 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while shooting a strong 60.1 percent from the field. His length could have been troublesome for the Nets on both ends.
With the relatively slow-footed Ersan Ilyasova and Luke Babbitt earning minutes in place of Collins and Dedmon, the Nets should take advantage. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson may make his return to the Nets after missing the previous two games. His funky game was missed and could give Atlanta fits. Tyler Zeller has entered the starting lineup and made a solid mark, playing fundamentally sound, but not flashy basketball. Jarrett Allen continues to impress off the bench, with Kenny Atkinson beaming every time the 19-year old is mentioned. Brooklyn can pound the Hawks down low, mixing an inside-outside attack to lead them to victory.
Defend the Perimeter
The Atlanta Hawks enter Saturday’s matchup with a 4-17 record, the second-worst mark in the league. Not a lot has gone well for them after shedding their key pieces last summer. Nets fans know that feeling. But one bright spot for Atlanta has been their perimeter shooting. Atlanta is sixth in the league in three-point efficiency, converting 38.2 percent of their perimeter attempts. Luke Babbitt and Taurean Waller-Prince are both shooting over 42 percent from deep. Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli have made their careers as strong perimeter shooters. They’re also known for stepping up against the Nets. For his career, Belinelli has shot 42.2 percent from the field against the Brooklyn Nets.
This will be a test for the Nets’ perimeter defense. With several Hawks bigs out, the game could become a shootout. If the Nets want to win, they have to defend closeouts well and try to stay attached to shooters on the perimeter. Caris LeVert and DeMarre Carroll have played solid defense at points. Allen Crabbe is listed as probable for Saturday’s game after missing the road trip with lower back soreness. The platoon of Nets wings will have to come prepared to stop a three-point barrage.
Trevor Booker exemplifies Brooklyn Grit. The big man is best when he’s hustling for rebounds and doing the dirty work. Booker has been a key part of Nets games. While he’s shifted from starter to sixth man several times, his play is still an important part of Brooklyn’s style. Per Basketball-Reference, Booker averages 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in Nets wins, compared to 8.9 points and 5.9 boards in Nets losses. Booker’s performance could dictate the Nets’ success.
The Hawks are 26th in the league in rebounds per game. Booker could control the boards in this game, again leading the Nets to victory with his hustle. Along with Booker’s play on the court, he’s a leader off of it. Booker has set a solid example for the Nets’ young pieces throughout the season. While he may not be part of Brooklyn’s long-term plan, he has set the tone for blue-collar basketball players.
Pregame coverage starts at 2:30 p.m. on YES Network. Be sure to follow @TheBKGame on twitter for live updates!