Brooklyn Nets, minus Russell, return home to face Celtics

Photo courtesy YES Network

Time: 7:30 p.m. EST

Location: Barclays Center

Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO

Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM

Photo courtesy YES Network

The Brooklyn Nets’ five-game, eight-day road trip was eventful. Brooklyn went 2-3 on the trip, moving the team’s record to 5-8 in the young season. As expected, the Nets looked great at times and dysfunctional at others. It’s expected from a team still growing – and dealing with various injury issues as well (more on that later).

The team’s final two road trip games, against the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz, showed that. On Friday night in Portland, the Nets were able to seal the deal on a close game against Portland, moving the ball well and playing solid defense. Poor defense and poor ball movement marked Saturday night’s loss to Utah, while still a close game. The Nets’ leader in assists, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, only had three assists. A seemingly winnable game by Brooklyn was spoiled by poor pick and roll defense on Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors.

The Brooklyn Nets begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday night against the Celtics.

The Boston Celtics come into Brooklyn as the best team in the NBA. They currently hold a 12-2 record, winning 12 straight after losing their first two games of the season. Even without Gordon Hayward, Boston has looked like a serious contender, especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers in some disarray. Coach Brad Stevens has managed the X’s and O’s masterfully, and Kyrie Irving has been a staple in daily highlight videos. The Celtics are cruising and crushing other teams, with an average margin of victory of 8.21 points.

The Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will play their first of four games this year on Tuesday night. Last season, the Celtics swept the season series against the Nets, winning all four games. While both teams have seen some serious turnover since their last meeting, the two franchises are still on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Here are three things to watch in Tuesday’s Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics contest:

1) Missing D’Angelo Russell and (maybe) Kyrie Irving

Saturday’s loss to the Utah Jazz was marked by even more worry to Brooklyn Nets fans. D’Angelo Russell exited the game late in the fourth after a non-contact injury. Russell was diagnosed Sunday with a knee contusion and is expected to miss several games. This comes as a huge blow to Brooklyn, losing their leading scorer (20.9 PPG) and leading playmaker (5.7 APG) for an unforeseeable amount of time.

A returning Spencer Dinwiddie will take over the Nets’ starting duties. While Dinwiddie may not be as magnetic a player as Russell, his solid presence off the bench has kept the Nets in several games. Dinwiddie’s only start of the season was the Nets’ thrilling victory against the Cavaliers on Oct. 25. 

The Boston Celtics may be missing their playmaker as well. Over the weekend, Irving was diagnosed with a minor facial fracture. He missed the Celtics’ victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. Like Russell, Irving also leads his team in points (20.3) while also providing solid playmaking as well (5.8 APG). Stevens has said he’s unsure if Irving will play on Tuesday night. Irving will likely don a protective mask after his injury. Masked Kyrie will surely be a meme for the next few weeks.

2) Rebounding (or lack of it)

The Celtics play a traditional lineup of two (actually big) bigs, Aron Baynes and Al Horford alongside two more big bodies at the wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. That starting lineup size has propelled the Celtics to be the best rebounding team in the NBA, so far. They grab 47.5 total rebounds per game along with 11.0 offensive boards a game as well. In addition, Boston has mastered team rebounding concepts, still grabbing boards even when Brad Stevens rolls out a smaller lineup.

The Brooklyn Nets play undersized. Everyone knows that by now. They allow 10.8 offensive boards per game, a mark of their inconsistency. Several times the Nets’ opponents have had second and third chances on offense, even after a solid Nets defensive possession. Some of that may be due to missing Trevor Booker, Jarrett Allen and Quincy Acy at some points. But still, the Nets’ rebounding issues often compound upon themselves.

Boston is a tough team to even compete with. If the Nets want to stay neck and neck with the NBA’s best team, they have to turn to the fundamentals. Rebounding, boxing out and working as a team to secure misses should be a priority for Brooklyn – especially if the team plans to push the pace and manufacture easy points.

3) Watch the shots

During their five-game road trip, the Brooklyn Nets were 29th in the league in three-point shooting, converting only 28.3 percent of their triple tries while shooting the second most in the NBA (33.2). Sometimes the Nets’ looks were good shots that simply could not fall. Others were forced shots of the “one and done” variety, as Ian Eagle would call them. The Nets shoot a lot of threes – but they have not been able to make them consistently.

With Russell out, Brooklyn will be missing one of its key set up men. Russell, when passing up on scoring, finds targets around the perimeter with ease. DeMarre Carroll, Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe need a playmaker for their own and the team’s success. With Dinwiddie in the starting lineup, it will be interesting to see how Brooklyn’s offense molds around a different lead guard.

To their credit, the Celtics’ defense may be the most important aspect of their current success. They stand first in the NBA in defensive rating and allow the lowest opponent eFG% on the defensive end (47.7 percent). Additionally, the Celtics have allowed opponents to shoot only 32.1 percent from three this season, good for third in the NBA. The Celtics have enough positional versatility to defend the perimeter. It will be up to the Nets to continue looking for open shots and scramble the Celtics’ defense to lead them to victory.

Pregame coverage on YES Network starts at 7 p.m. EST. Be sure to follow @TheBKGame on Twitter for live coverage of the game!