Nets try to split back-to-back in Minnesota

Photo courtesy YES Network

Time: 9 p.m.

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Photo courtesy YES Network

The Brooklyn Nets looked good last night – for about 18 minutes. Last night’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks was a one-sided affair for most of the night. The Bucks opened the game on fire, with the Nets having no match for the long arms of Milwaukee (post-Jason Kidd).

At halftime, the Nets were down by 23. But Brooklyn, ever the fighters, played a strong third quarter. They outscored the Bucks 37-23 in the third, but were still down by nine at the end of it. In the fourth quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo took over, scoring 41 points and flirting with a triple double with 13 points and 7 assists. Brooklyn lost big, 116-91.

A night later, the Nets fly from Milwaukee to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves continue to be a top dog in the Western Conference, holding the fourth seed as of today. They’re within striking distance of the second-seeded Rockets and third-seeded Spurs. While they have lost four of their last six games, they still are a dangerous team to face every night. Their combination of size up front with Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns could be problematic for the small ball-centric Nets.

The Nets won their last meeting with the Timberwolves in dramatic fashion on Jan. 3. It was a game where Spencer Dinwiddie took over late and sunk Minnesota with a clutch shot. DeMarre Carroll thwarted a Jimmy Butler game winner and Brooklyn came away with a huge victory. Will we see a repeat of that game?

Here are three things to look for in tonight’s Wolves-Nets matchup!

Jimmy, Jimmy

No, we’re not talking about The Brooklyn Game writer Jimmy Espinal. This is about Jimmy Butler. The All Star wing has missed the past four games due to a sore right knee. That may have been a primary factor in the Wolves’ misfortunes in the past few games. Butler currently averages 36.9 minutes per game, so his presence and role within the Wolves’ schemes has left a big hole in his absence. Not only has Butler been their leading scorer, but he’s also their closer, stepping up and taking over in big moments.

But tonight, Butler is expected to return to the lineup. The Nets will have their hands full with a full-strength Timberwolves squad at home.

Joe Harris, Hooping

Joe Harris continues to be one of the most consistent players on the Nets. He has scored in double-digits over the past eight games. Over the past five games, he’s shot 62.5 percent from three, including 5-for-5 at OKC and 3-of-4 at Milwaukee.

Harris has also continued to expand his game. His aggressiveness moving off ball, and his ability to attack off the dribble have been positive signs of the Nets’ ability to develop and build players. This is a completely different Harris than the one we saw at the beginning of his Nets run.

The Nets will need his offensive production tonight. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson exiting the game last night with a groin injury, Harris could enter the starting lineup. With increased minutes, his production and consistency could be beneficial for the Nets. If the Nets want to shoot better than 23.5 percent from three (that’s what they shot against the Bucks), Harris will need to continue to be Mr. Reliable – or a Role Star.

DLoading Complete?

The end of the third quarter against Milwaukee was exhilarating. D’Angelo Russell – still on a minutes restriction and out of tonight’s matchup against the Wolves – took over to close the third. He scored eight straight points, giving his tenets hope for a comeback attempt. It was a positive sign for Russell, who has struggled to find his shot since making his return last Friday against the Heat. It seems that he may have shaken off all the rust. It takes time.

Russell finished last night with 14 points, but he also had seven turnovers. While some of those were due to carelessness, his vision seemed to be a play ahead, just narrowly missing his teammates. 

Isaiah Whitehead has been called up for the game in Russell’s place, so we’ll see what the sophomore has to offer before Russell hits the court again.