Dear Brooklyn: Go Small Tonight

Brook Lopez, Keith Bogans, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace

Tonight’s Brooklyn Nets opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, will likely be without both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for the third straight game. Both are listed as doubtful on the injury report, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hinted that they might be out until the All-Star break Thursday, making doubtful seem all the more plausible.

With Duncan out and Ginobili not on the bench, the Spurs will likely go with a starting lineup of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, and Tiago Splitter.

Their big men off the bench will be 6’6″ DeJuan Blair and outside shooter Matt Bonner. (They recently signed New Zealand center Aron Baynes, but he only played 91 seconds in their most recent game.)

Their starting lineup gives the Nets a perfect opportunity to play their lineup that achieves the most success: their smallball lineup of Deron Williams, Keith Bogans, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez. In nearly 100 minutes this season, that lineup outscores opponents by 22.9 points per 100 possessions.

Defense, as always, is not as simple as a matchup-on-matchup, one-player-versus-one-player system; it demands five players aware of a system of schemes and rotations. The Spurs are perhaps the best team in the NBA at exploiting these mismatches; the word “movement” is synonymous with Popovich’s system, as the system relies on cross-court movement, off the ball, with the ball, and of the ball.

But without Duncan as the fulcrum of their offense, without Ginobili providing his unique creativity, this Spurs lineup is exploitable against a team smart enough to rotate accordingly. No one would ever accuse the Nets of quickness, but with Wallace at the four, they’re as fast as they get. That speed can translate offensively; the Nets have a rare instance where they might be as athletic as their opponents, and may even outscore an opponent in transition tonight.

The Spurs lost their last game 119-109 against the Detroit Pistons. The most successful Pistons lineup? Jose Calderon, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight, Charlie Villanueva, and Greg Monroe — outscoring San Antonio 17-8 in five minutes together. Three point guards, a stretch four, and a forward-center. That’s not exactly what the Nets have, but it’s a philosophy they can adopt — use speed to beat slow size, exploit mismatches, and perhaps steal a game from a shorthanded, excellent team.