Nets to begin difficult stretch against Trail Blazers… if they play at all

Workers shovel snow outside Barclays Center on January 21, 2014. (AP)
Workers shovel snow outside Barclays Center on January 21, 2014. (AP)

UPDATE: Weather did not permit.

After an embarrassing three-game road trip that saw them lose the last two games by combined total of 74 points, the Nets (18-26) are back home in Brooklyn. If weather permits — a dicey proposition at this point — they’ll play the Northwest Division-leading Portland Trailblazers (31-13).

Two brutal losses to the Los Angeles Clippers (123-84) and Utah Jazz (108-73) spawned more Nets trade talks, this time in a potential package sending Joe Johnson to the Charlotte Hornets for Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson, and Marvin Williams.

But onto the court! With the season slipping away, the Nets begin a stretch matching them against winning teams in 11 of 15 games including the next five beginning tonight. The Blazers, currently the third seed in the Western Conference, have lost five of their last seven, but still lead the second-place Oklahoma City Thunder in the division by a full nine games.

The injuries have begun to pile up for Terry Stotts’ team. Robin Lopez is recovering from a broken hand last month, and Nicolas Batum missed Saturday’s game against Washington with a sprained right wrist. But more notably, LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to play with a damaged ligament in his left thumb that was originally diagnosed to keep him out six-to-eight weeks. Before Saturday night’s game, Aldridge announced he would bypass surgery and play through the injury, and the three-time All-Star didn’t disappoint, scoring 26 points and snatching nine rebounds to lead his team to a 103-96 win over the Wizards.

Aldridge (23.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game) and point guard Damian Lillard (22.0 ppg. and 6.2 assists per game) continue to have impressive seasons, and both appear to be safe bets to be All-Star reserves announced on Thursday night.

Chris Kaman has started the last 11 games for the injured Lopez (no, their injured Lopez), averaging 9.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Wesley Matthews, in the midst of perhaps his best season, remains the third scoring option for the Blazers, on pace for career highs in points per game (16.5) and field goal percentage (45.9 percent).

In their first meeting in Portland on November 15th, minus Aldridge sitting out with an illness, the Blazers beat the Nets 97-87 behind 28 points and 10 assists from Lillard. The Nets shot an abysmal 1-for-19 from three-point range, missing their first 18 attempts before Deron Williams finally sank one with 19 seconds remaining in the game.

After two straight embarrassing defeats, Nets head coach Lionel Hollins shed some light about the team’s mindset. “We talk about last-second losses, they hang with you, but you get over them,” Hollins said after the Jazz loss. “Big blowouts, probably you forget about it really quick because nobody can say, if I’ve done this.”

The Nets begin the night a half-game behind the Charlotte Hornets (19-26), who currently reside in the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference standings. The team’s plummet down the standings coincides with the injury to Deron Williams, who last played against the Boston Celtics on January 7th. The Nets have dropped nine of eleven games, and the minutes for Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson continue to rise in Williams’s absence. There is still no timetable for his return until he returns to practice, and with Mirza Teletovic sidelined for the rest of the season, the Nets will be looking for contributions from the likes of Cory Jefferson, Markel Brown, and Darius Morris to pick up the slack.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 E.S.T at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center… if it gets played at all.

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