The Brooklyn Nets are in Cleveland taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. Here’s three things to watch.
1. Brook Lopez. Here’s Brook Lopez’s averages in two games versus Cleveland this year: 29 points, 9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 67.6% from the field. That’s both with Anderson Varejao and without. The Cavaliers are without. Cavaliers Canadian forward Tristan Thompson has done well against the Nets interior before, but it’s nothing compared to the decimation Lopez hath wrought on Tyler Zeller.
2. The wings. Like many teams, the Cavaliers don’t start a “traditional” small forward, rather playing two guards — the 6’6″ Alonzo Gee and the 6’4″ Dion Waiters — next to point guard Kyrie Irving in the backcourt. That said, Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo is a traditionalist at heart, and even without Johnson, we can get some hints at who the Nets might play with their backup minutes in the playoffs. With D-League call-up and former Boston Celtics second-round pick Kris Joseph joining the team tonight, will he get minutes over Nets rookie Tornike Shengelia and veteran Jerry Stackhouse?
3. Tank City? Around this time of the season last year, the Nets were well out of the playoff hunt and “resting” their starters en route to a better draft position that they couldn’t use anyway. Now, with the Nets jockeying for playoff position and the Cavaliers looking to get a high pick in this year’s lottery, the Cavaliers may *ahem* avoid their best efforts tonight.
That also presumes the Nets don’t want to tank — which they might. With second and third all but locked up for New York and Indiana, the Nets will likely end up staying as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference if they keep winning — giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but also turning them into playoff fodder for the Miami Heat in the second round if they win. If they drop all the way to sixth — they’re only two games ahead of Chicago, the current sixth seed — that sets up not only a potential classic Nets-Knicks first-round series, but also gives the Nets a chance to get to the Conference Finals before they run into Miami. Of course… they’d just have to win in the playoffs.
Bonus: Do yourself a favor and watch Kyrie Irving closely. Because he’s awesome. (Warning: this video is him being awesome against the Nets. In super slow motion. Feel free to skip if you don’t want to know.)