Nets look to end four-game skid against Wizards in final game of home stand

Photo courtesy YES Network

Time: 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Barclays Center

Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO

Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM

Photo courtesy YES Network

The Brooklyn Nets are struggling. Like, really struggling.

Upon first glance, Wednesday’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings appeared to be a reasonable, winnable game. While the Nets entered Wednesday with a three-game losing streak, the Kings themselves have not looked particularly great this season. (The victory over the Nets brought them to an 11-20 record, 12th in the West.)

Sacramento, while not known to be a particularly explosive team, managed to score 64 points by halftime. Brooklyn looked all out of sorts for the entire first half of the game, falling behind by as many as 21 points.

The Nets began to heat up in the second half and rallied back, coming within as little as two points. Brooklyn’s two turnovers and multiple missed shot attempts in the final minute would seal the deal for the Kings, and the Nets continue to search for answers to their woes.

If the Kings were problematic for the Nets, then boy oh boy, does this team have to wake up for Friday’s matchup against the Washington Wizards.

Oddly enough, the Nets’ last win actually came against the Wizards on December 12. This was impressive considering it came just five days after the Trevor Booker-Jahlil Okafor/Nik Stauskas trade (with the release of Sean Kilpatrick), and Brooklyn had not begun using Okafor nor Stauskas yet. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie had extraordinary performances, as they both finished with double-doubles (The Hyphen in points-rebounds; The Mayor in points-assists).

Since then, the Wizards regained John Wall and have been pretty hot, winning three of their last four contests. They are coming off one more day of rest than the Nets, since their last game was on Tuesday — a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. 

John Wall, the “Road Runner”

No one can discount how paramount John Wall is to the Washington Wizards. The dynamic point guard has only played 20 games for Washington this season, and the team went 4-6 in games he did not dress for.

Of course, with the Nets’ sidelined Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie will be challenged with the tough task of defending Wall. Perhaps even Caris LeVert, depending on the lineups Head Coach Kenny Atkinson decides to throw onto the court in the team’s second unit. (Three weeks ago, after the Nets’ huge win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Mexico City, Atkinson referred to LeVert as Brooklyn’s “de facto second-unit point guard” with Lin and Russell out.)

The 24-year-old de facto lead point guard in Dinwiddie and “de facto second-unit point guard” in LeVert will have to deal with the damn “Road Runner” in Wall:

LeVert got our love for “Road Runner” status too:

Earth to Allen Crabbe

It was not too long ago — the summer, actually — that Allen Crabbe was the talk of the town in Brooklyn. Remember when the Nets had a boatload of cap space to work with after striking out with Otto Porter Jr. (hello again — Friday) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? And how Sean Marks opted to flip those defeats and cap room with trades, one of which got Crabbe to Brooklyn? What about that excitement that used to proliferate in Brooklyn just at the thought of how well Crabbe would fit into the Nets’ system?

Well, times have changed, and Crabbe has really been struggling to prove he is worth that $19.3 million price tag he came with. He took over as the Nets’ starting shooting guard amid LeVert’s sophomore slump, but has encountered troubles of his own. Minor injuries related to his knee and back have forced him to miss four games since late November, and his recent stats have only compounded his setbacks. In his last five games, he has been shooting just 30.5 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from behind the arc. That is far from his career-high numbers from Portland last season, and even a pretty big downgrade from his season averages through 26 games this year.

Who will be the answer to the Nets’ rebounding woes?

The Nets were not extremely bad in the rebounding department in their last outing against Washington — in fact, they even out-rebounded the Wizards 53-49 — but they have been god-awful for most of their losing streak. It has almost become second nature for the Nets to be beaten on the boards by any team possessing a 7-footer (with two exceptions — Toronto slightly since Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 10 rebounds in that Nets’ loss, and New York since the Nets out-rebounded the Knicks by three).

For a team that has four 7-footers (or near-7-footers at 6-foot-11), not a single one is super reliable on the boards. DeMarre Carroll, Trevor Booker (we miss you!) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are the Nets’ leading rebounders with over six per game, while Tyler Zeller, Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen come in at 4.7, four and 3.7 per game, respectively. (Jahlil Okafor was not included since he has only played one game thus far.)

One should note that a lot of this also comes down to playing time, since Mozgov has all but entirely fell out of Brooklyn’s rotation, while Zeller and Allen have barely mustered 20 minutes per game as of late. Instead, then, the Nets must rely on key contributions on the glass from the rest of the team, as Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll are already the biggest names in that category. That was exactly the case in their prior meeting with the Wizards, with five Nets (excluding Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll) finishing with at least four rebounds.

It is tricky because players like Dinwiddie, Crabbe and Harris are not going to rebound heavily on a nightly basis, and the Nets only slightly out-rebounding their opponent is not the only answer to notching the win. However, Brooklyn has shown that being overly out-rebounded by its opponents is only a recipe for disaster. At least with the Wizards, their only 7-footer is Jason Smith, and he hardly receives playing time, let alone grabs boards. The Nets still have the 6-foot-11 Marcin Gortat to worry about, though.