Nets begin five-game road trip in Detroit

Photo courtesy YES Network

When: 4 p.m.

Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO

Photo courtesy YES Network

Are things trending up for the Brooklyn Nets? (Sorry if I jinx it.) The Nets continue to play gritty basketball, competing with some of the best teams in the league. After a thwarted comeback attempt against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, the Nets came back from a 14-point deficit to beat the Miami Heat on Friday. The 101-95 win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Nets. The victory was spurred by a career-high-tying performance from DeMarre Carroll, and an assertive Caris LeVert in the fourth quarter.

Oh, and D’Angelo Russell returned to action Friday as well. While he may have looked a little rusty in his limited minutes off the bench, he brought an energy to the Nets and Nets fans at Barclays Center.

It is yet to be seen if Brooklyn can capitalize on its momentum from last game to succeed heading into the All-Star Break. The Nets will begin a five-game road trip on Sunday against the Detroit Pistons. The last time the two teams met was an ugly affair – for Nets fans. The Pistons embarrassed the Nets on their home floor, 114-80, 11 days ago. The Nets couldn’t break through Detroit’s defense, and couldn’t find a match for Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris. It may have been the Nets’ worst game of the season. They’re looking to get revenge in Detroit’s brand new Little Caesars Arena (yes, it was named after the pizza chain.)

Here are three things to look for in Sunday’s Nets-Pistons matchup!

Shaking off the Rust

Russell’s return was the major storyline heading into Friday’s game against the Heat. Russell looked a little rusty to start off the game, committing a few turnovers and badly missing shots. But in the second half, he showed what the Nets were missing – in small bouts. Leading the Nets’ second unit, Russell helped find his teammates on the perimeter and in the paint. His dribbling was hypnotic at times, both fancy and effective.

While Russell failed to make a field goal in his 14:20 of action, he should be finding his groove in his return. While he may be on a minutes restriction, a player of his caliber – and a ballhandler of his skill level – could be a needed lift for Nets’ second units.

Manage the Boards

The Nets were outrebounded 54-35 in their blowout loss to Detroit on Jan. 10. Drummond posted 22 points and 20 rebounds, looking like a man amongst boys in the paint. That effort on the boards, paired with Stan Van Gundy’s plan to trap Spencer Dinwiddie propelled Detroit to an easy victory.

Trying to stop Drummond is a task easier said than done. While the small ball strategy has helped the Nets at points, more time could be given to Jahlil Okafor and Tyler Zeller, two of the few Nets players that could even come close to matching Drummond physically. Either that, or the Nets will need to strive to rebound as a team.

New Crunch Time Unit?

The Nets rolled with a new lineup for the last two minutes of the Miami Heat game. Rather than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe, Kenny Atkinson went with LeVert and Joe Harris. They joined Dinwiddie, Carroll and Quincy Acy and made a run to capture and maintain a lead. The presence of LeVert took some pressure off Dinwiddie, giving the Nets a second ballhandler to attack in the clutch. Harris was a bit stronger of a defender at the small forward spot with Crabbe as well.

With Russell slowly making his way back into the fold, the Nets will likely continue to experiment with new player combinations. So far, Atkinson has emphasized spacing in crunch time. But now, he may put a premium on ballhandling. The crunch time combo against the Heat provided enough spacing – and enough off-the-dribble attacking – to keep the scoring going. While the season may be halfway done, Brooklyn continues to grow as a team.