Demoralizing. Setback. Whooping. Those are three of the many terms that can describe the Nets’ disappointing 115-91 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. But after the dust settles on Wednesday night, it was still just one game, and the Nets (25-34) try to right their ship tonight against the visiting Phoenix Suns (32-30). The loss put the Nets a game behind the Hornets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’ll play their next three games at home against Western Conference opponents.
The Suns are in a similar position as the Nets, trailing two and half games behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West. Head Coach Jeff Hornacek’s team endured a facelift at the February 19th trading deadline, making three multi-team trades which sent away, among others, point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. The most notable acquisition for the Suns, ex-Bucks guard Brandon Knight, has been tasked along with new backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe in leading the team to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
The new-look Suns have lost five of eight since the three trades, but Knight played easily his best game since his acquisition on Wednesday in Orlando. The Suns, sparked by a 34-point third quarter, erased a 15-point deficit to beat the Magic 105-100, led by Knight’s 28 points and seven assists.
The last time the Nets faced the Suns was on November 12th in Phoenix, in an enigmatic, two-sided game which ended in defeat. Despite scoring a season high 63 first-half points and shooting an astounding 70.6 percent from the field, the Nets managed to cough up what was once a 19 point lead en route to a deflating 112-104 loss. It was the first game of what turned out to be a 0-3 West Coast trip. The since-traded Thomas and ex-Nets high-flyer Gerald Green combined for 49 points off the bench, including 20-for-21 from the free throw line. Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee’s brother, scored eight points with ten rebounds in the win and has since been moved in the deadline exodus, along with Tyler Ennis, to Milwaukee in the Knight trade.
The November loss in Phoenix was the first of five straight for the Nets and also the first since the now-infamous “selfishness” comments by Joe Johnson three days earlier. Coincidentally, the Nets are facing the Suns at a time where their identity is still, for a lack of better word, two-faced. Are the Nets the upstart team that upset the mighty Golden State Warriors on Monday, or the second-fiddle roster steamrolled by the less-imposing Hornets? Tonight’s game should shed some light on the state of the team, but the Nets have proven time and time again that foreshadowing is a poor gauge.
Watch out for: the play of the usually reliable Joe Johnson. The seven-time All-Star has played his worst back-to-back games of the season, scoring a combined 7 points in 59 minutes.
Tip-off is at 8:00 E.S.T. at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.