Nets with much at stake against shorthanded Trail Blazers

The Nets have a tough task in stopping Damian Lillard. (AP)
The Nets have a tough task in stopping Damian Lillard. (AP)

The Nets’ (35-41) six-game winning streak ended unmercifully on Saturday night to the Atlanta Hawks. After beating the Toronto Raptors in a thriller the night before, the Nets ran into a well-rested and ravenous Hawks team that shot 60 percent en route to a 131-99 drubbing at Philips Arena.

After a blizzard cancelled their January 26th game, the Nets host the Portland Trail Blazers (50-26) tonight at Barclays Center for a make-up game. The NBA normally wipes their slate clean as a courtesy to the NCAA Tournament — and because ratings would be in the tank against the national championship game — but alas, Mother Nature made this game on this day a reality.

Despite all of the hubbub elsewhere, the Nets still have much at stake tonight. With just six games remaining on their schedule, the Nets begin the day seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Boston Celtics and a full game ahead of both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat.

The Pacific Division champion Trail Blazers, who have already clinched their division, headed to the east coast without three of their key contributors. Head Coach Terry Stotts elected to leave All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, forward Nicolas Batum, and center Chris Kaman back in Portland to rest various bumps and bruises.

Coincidentally, Aldridge (illness) and Batum (bruised knee) also missed the November 15th game against the Nets. But the Nets fell in Portland 97-87 anyway, thanks to the other Blazers All-Star, Damian Lillard (28 points, 10 assists). The Nets shot just 39.3 from the field, including an abysmal 1-for-19 from three-point range, missing their first 18 attempts from deep before Deron Williams salvaged a three with 19 seconds remaining in the game. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 21 points.

Aaron Afflalo, who notched 11 points and nine rebounds against the Nets in a Nuggets uniform on December 23rd, will play his 23rd game for the Blazers tonight since being acquired via trade in February. Afflalo has been pressed into starting duty since March 7th after Wesley Matthews suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. In 22 games with the Blazers, Afflalo has averaged 11.0 points in 30 minutes per game.

For the Nets, Alan Anderson will miss his second straight game with a sprained ankle.

What to watch for: A little Duke inspiration. With his brother Marshall playing for the National Championship tonight in Indianapolis, Mason Plumlee could use some inspiration to rekindle that early-season production that propelled the Nets early in the season. Brook Lopez’s terrific stretch has aided in dwindling Plumlee’s minutes after the All-Star Break, but he has been even harder to spot lately. In his last four games, Plumlee has averaged just 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in just 10.2 minutes per game. Maybe Hollins can find ways to get the ex-Blue Devil some easy buckets tonight against the short-handed Blazers.

Tip-off is at 7:00 PM EDT at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.