Opponent: San Antonio Spurs
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: AT&T Center
Watch: YES Network
Listen: WCBS 880 AM
Here’s a not-so-fun fact that you may have seen bandied about already: the Nets have never won a game in the AT&T Center.
That isn’t entirely true, though. You see, the then New Jersey Nets won Game 2 of the 2003 NBA Finals in that very building, less than seven months after it had opened. Jason Kidd led the way that evening, dropping 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in 42 minutes, despite missing a key free throw late in the fourth quarter. The rest of their starting lineup that night included Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin, and Jason Collins, with Lucious Harris, Dikembe Mutombo, Rodney Rogers, and Anthony Johnson coming off of the bench. It was a different time, certainly — and even the name of the arena was the SBC Center. So, through a confluence of a name change and the playoffs not counting towards wins and losses at an arena, the Nets have never technically won in the AT&T Center.
Of course, the Spurs still have the same head coach, point guard, and sixth man … so maybe it wasn’t that long ago.
On the other hand, the Nets’ last game was a cause for celebration, in many ways. Caris LeVert made his long-awaited debut, picking up 3 steals and 4 rebounds in 9 minutes of work (he was 0-for-3 from the floor, but that means all but nothing in the grand scheme of things). Four players had at least three assists, as the team showcased its comforting brand of selfless basketball, and they largely avoided turnovers and fouls. They shot a cool 48.2% from the field (52.5% for the starters) and Trevor Booker put up yet another double-double.
Yes, the Nets won — but, in a season such as this, the process means more than the results. It’s certainly a more watchable product when they’re winning, though.
Tonight’s opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, saw a four-game winning streak come to an end on Thursday night, losing to the Bulls in Chicago. They now sit at 18-5 (the 2nd-best record in the NBA), but Popovich was none too pleased with their effort level the other night. There isn’t all that much else to say about the Spurs — they’re still the Spurs, and there’s some existential comfort in that.
Here are some questions to consider heading into the game:
1. Who will Kawhi Leonard suffocate on defense?
Kawhi Leonard’s defense has backslid ever-so-slightly this season, perhaps under the weight of shouldering a much heavier offensive load. All that really means, though, is that he has performed as a top three or four defender this season, as opposed to a terrifying monster with invisible arms. I suspect that it’ll be Bojan Bogdanovic that will see the brunt of Leonard’s assault, but I’m quite certain that he’ll spread the love around.
2. How strange will it be to see Brook Lopez as the young fella in the paint and post?
Brook Lopez may only be 28, but he feels so much older due to our familiarity with him, and his plodding, methodical pace. He’ll match-up against the 31 year-old LaMarcus Aldridge and the 36 year-old Pau Gasol tonight, and he is actually a bit faster than the latter. Onlookers may well step into Bizarro World a few times as a result.
3. What should we expect from Caris LeVert?
I strongly believe that this should be a question that we ask on a game-by-game basis, so what about tonight? Caris LeVert should be brought along at a slow and steady pace, given his injury issues, and Kenny Atkinson will do just that. But what should we look for in terms of progress? More fast breaks? A wetter jump shot? More opportunities with the ball (in terms of both touches and shots)? My answer is … I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued.