After a fourth (4th! Quatro! Vier!) win against the Miami Heat this year, the Brooklyn Nets find themselves in their least favorite position: on the second day of a back-to-back. Luckily, they’re in Orlando to take on the lowly, 22-win Magic, who are trying their hardest to grab a few more ping-pong balls at season’s end for the upcoming NBA Draft. With Kevin Garnett in and Paul Pierce out, Brooklyn will try to keep their slim chances at the fourth seed alive.
Here’s three things to watch for in tonight’s game.
1. How will Coach Kidd monitor Kevin Garnett’s minutes?
Garnett’s slow climb towards recovery culminated in a 13-minute return against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. Keep close watch on how much Garnett plays tonight: it should be more than Saturday, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Coach Kidd continue easing the veteran back into the rotation with the playoffs just around the corner.
Undeniably, the Brooklyn Nets have missed Garnett’s defensive presence in the paint. Although Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee have held their own, the Nets need Garnett healthy if they plan to take down Miami or Indiana. Tonight’s game against Orlando is a huge step back towards that goal.
2. Who will step up in Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston’s absence?
Earlier today, the Nets announced that both Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston would miss the game due to hip and toe injuries. Without the duo, the Nets will lack some of the creativity and athleticism that helped win last night’s game in Miami. Both Alan Anderson and Marcus Thornton added nice contributions (7 and 16 points), but will be asked for much more against Orlando.
Macrus Thornton shoots without a conscience, and it goes without saying that he could win or lose this game for Brooklyn. Expect Thornton to either score 5 points on 2-8 shooting or another one of his magical 30 point games with 5 threes.
3. How will Mason Plumlee deal with his newfound popularity?
Last night, Mason Plumlee stopped the world in its tracks by blocking LeBron James’ dunk attempt to save the game for Brooklyn. In the twenty hours since the game, Plumlee’s name has been everywhere, but his follow-up effort tonight will be just as important.
Tonight, he’ll have spurts of Garnett to lean on, but without Blatche again, Plumlee will be asked to shoulder the weight in the paint. It should be a great matchup for Plumlee that serves as litmus test moving towards a potential showdown with Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert in the playoffs.