The Brooklyn Nets (8-10) welcome in the Cleveland Cavaliers (11-7) tonight at Barclays Center at a rough and trying time.
After a lackluster performance on Friday night versus the Atlanta Hawks, losing 98-75, the Nets learned they will be without center Brook Lopez for at least the next four games with a lower back strain, meaning head coach Lionel Hollins will need extended minutes from the likes of Jerome Jordan and Mason Plumlee to pick up the slack in the frontcourt. Then comes Joe Johnson’s uncertain status, after missing yesterday’s practice with a stomach virus.
The Nets could use all the help they can get because the Cavaliers look to be hitting on all cylinders lately. After an impressive 105-91 road win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday, Head Coach David Blatt has his team atop of the Eastern Conference’s Central Division in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
The Cavs are finally looking like the team everyone assumed would emerge after re-signing LeBron James and acquiring Kevin Love. Like any team with a new cast of characters, it’s been a process full of setbacks, turmoil, and incohesion, but now they’re trending upward with a head of steam. King James is off to a slow start by his lofty standards, averaging 24.6 points per game while shooting just 47 percent from the field. The four-time league MVP has shot over 56 percent the last two seasons, but the flow within the offense this season has not enabled him to find his scoring groove yet. e has been the consummate facilitator, however, averaging 7.9 assists per game while doing much of the ballhandling, which has helped teammate Kyrie Irving strive during this recent winning streak, highlighted by a 37-point night at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday night.
Irving, last year’s All-Star Game MVP, is on pace to set career highs in Field Goal Percentage (48.9 percent) , Three Point Field Goal Percentage (42.2 percent), and is beginning to mirror a role similar to Dwayne Wade the past four seasons in Miami.
The next two weeks present a tall task for the struggling Nets, playing Cleveland (twice), Chicago, and Toronto. If there was ever a time for Deron Williams to step up, it appears this upcoming stretch would suffice; the entire Nets roster has been inconsistent this season, but D-Will has showed a steady presence at the point and finally looks to be healthy. Dare it be said: Be more selfish? Lopez’s injury and Johnson’s recent struggles (and health) are red-flags that should alert Williams to be more aggressive on the offense end and take a larger role by shooting the ball more, especially from three point range where he has been terrific (41 percent).
The Nets need a spark from somewhere, another embarrassing loss at home could be disastrous to the short-term outlook.