The Three Keys To Nets-Rockets,
Starring The Giant Comics Lover In The Middle

Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard (AP)

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Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard (AP)

At 4-11, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t very good. They’re at the bottom of the NBA in defensive efficiency and their offense isn’t much better. Three players skipped the team’s two-game road trip with injuries, and a fourth missed seven straight games heading into tonight.

Here’s three things to watch on the floor that aren’t soda as they take on the 11-5 Houston Rockets.

1) Brook Lopez’s ankle. The game rests on this more than anything else: Brook Lopez will play for the first time since November 15th after spraining his ankle two weeks ago. Historically, Lopez hasn’t fared well against Howard: Dwight’s teams are 11-1 against the Nets when Lopez plays, and Dwight’s 21-15-3 blocks on 62% shooting in those games dwarfs Brook’s 15-6-1 on 46%. But the two also haven’t played in over a year, and many of those big numbers for Dwight came before the turn of the decade. The Nets have been much better at protecting the paint with Lopez on the floor this season, and his paint scoring continues to improve.

Worth noting: the interior doesn’t stop with those two. The Rockets as a team lead the league in rebounding percentage and points in the paint, while the Nets rank seventh-worst in each. Plus, the team’s best defensive rebounder this season (Kevin Garnett) will sit to rest, and tenaciously record-setting rebounder Reggie Evans has been marginalized from Brooklyn’s rotation as distance shooter Mirza Teletovic has taken on a larger role. If the Nets don’t man the paint tonight, this could get ugly.

2) Livingstanity. Livingston looked much stronger and more comfortable running the offense before injuries to Deron Williams forced him to take on a bigger role for longer. Livingston has started the team’s last four games and struggled mightily, scoring just fifteen points in 112 minutes, shooting under 24 percent from the field. The Rockets will be without part-time starting point guard Jeremy Lin, but now-regular starter Patrick Beverley will match up against Livingston. Beverley is a tenacious defender, sometimes bordering on reckless, a stark contrast to the athletic but methodical Livingston. If Livingston can pace the game to his advantage and use his six-inch height advantage, he could key a lot of good offensive possessions.

3) Finding something… Anything. The Nets, with a defense led by Lawrence Frank and Kevin Garnett, currently rank 30th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Not sure I know how to dissect that statement. The Nets look confounded in help defense and pick-and-roll situations, despite clear directions about how to defend against different defenders and in different looks. Though Lopez has shown flashes of greatness protecting the paint, he hasn’t played in two weeks, and Blatche isn’t exactly the help defender you want cleaning up behind him.

The installation of communication has stalled early in the season, and it’s not clear what the fix is yet. Against an offense that’s second in offensive efficiency, I’m not sure we’ll find out tonight.