The Brooklyn Nets (17-24) begin a three-game road trip on the west coast tonight against the Sacramento Kings (16-25), the first of a back-to-back set. Deron Williams, still sidelined with fractured rib cartilage, will make the trip with the team but will not play. There is no timetable yet for his return.
The last meeting between the two teams was on December 29th, a 107-99 Nets victory led by Mason Plumlee’s 22 points and Kevin Garnett’s ten points, eight rebounds, and career-high-tying four steals in only 21 minutes. In the losing effort, Rudy Gay led the Kings with 25 points, and DeMarcus Cousins racked up 24 points and 13 rebounds.
The game was on the tail end of a week of trade rumors sending Williams to the Kings in a multi-player package. The activity hasn’t ceased, whether it be rumors of Brook Lopez’s departure to Oklahoma City, or owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s willingness to sell the franchise, Nets coach Lionel Hollins is tasked with keeping his team focused, with hopes of still making the playoffs.
As it stands today, the Nets would be the eighth seed for the Eastern Conference. Should they lose tonight and the Charlotte Hornets (facing the Miami Heat) win, they would be bumped into the lottery.
Key stat: 95. The Nets are 15-5 when scoring 95 or more points, compared to 2-19 when they don’t. The Nets are one of the league’s slower-paced teams, so it’s a miracle when they hit that benchmark. They’re 10-3 when they hold opponents under 95 points.
Defense has been something for the team to hang their hats on lately despite the roster’s scarcity of athletic on-ball defenders. In the past 26 games, the Nets rank eighth in opponent field goal percentage (44.1 percent), and they’re around the middle of the back in defensive rating.
The Kings welcome the Nets to Sacramento having lost four straight, most recently a 98-94 loss in Portland to the Trail Blazers Monday night. They’re led by the aforementioned Cousins, who will make his first All-Star game this season, averaging 23.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Point guard Darren Collison, mentioned in Nets trade rumors, is in the midst of his best season, averaging 16.6 points and 5.9 assists.
While the offense has been the bright spot as far as scoring, ball-handling and disruption on both ends of the floor has been an issue for second year coach Mike Malone’s squad; ranking 27th in turnovers per game (16.4) and turnover rate (16.7%), and dead last in opponent turnovers (12.1 per game, 12.3%). True to form, the Nets scored 25 points on 21 Kings turnovers in their last matchup, despite only turning the ball over nine times themselves.
As for the Kings’ defense, they’ve yielded 100 points in 13 of their last 17 games, allowing 107.2 points per 100 possessions (fourth-worst in the NBA) in that time. If recent trends continue, the Nets 95-point benchmark for success should be advantageous.
If only things were that simple. Tip-off is at 10:00 E.S.T. At Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.