Pregame Open Thread: New Jersey Nets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The New Jersey Nets come back Monday fresh off their last-second loss to the Dallas Mavericks on a rim-in Dirk Nowitzki jumper to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at home in the Prudential Center. Here are a few keys to the game.

This is a must-win: You can probably count on one hand the number of times you’ve labeled a game a “must-win” for a team with 12 wins halfway through the season, but the Nets have to win this game to maintain any semblance of being decent at basketball. The Cavaliers, atrocious overall, are particularly atrocious on the road; they haven’t won away from the Quicken Loans Arena since early November … when they took down the Nets. Things have changed since then, of course, as defensive anchor Anderson Varejao has been declared out for the season with injury. Again, this is a game the Nets have to win.

Post Defense is Key: I suppose that’s a bit of a pun, but it wasn’t really intentional. At any rate, as bad as the Cavs’ roster is, its brightest spots shine from the frontcourt, where Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson are the only nightly reminders that Cleveland isn’t a D-League team. Avoiding a loss will mean keeping that pair from going off on the offensive end in the post. You can take your chances with Cleveland’s rag-tag assortment of perimeter players.

Brook Lopez Exists in the Fourth Quarter: While Saturday’s game against the Mavericks culminated in a loss, it was nice to see the team actually get Brook Lopez the ball for once in the fourth quarter. And, believe it or not, he was actually impressive with those possessions. Instead of just firing away from the perimeter down the stretch, the Nets need to keep featuring Lopez on the block in the final period to give themselves the best shot at winning some games.

For more on the Cavaliers, check out Cavs: The Blog.