Nets look to maintain momentum in Washington

And they have their “C” team to thank for that momentum, because the brooklyn nets, led by reservists young and old, have just won a capital victory. Of course, it might not stand out on that team’s basketball reference page at the end of the season. No offense to the Pacers, one of the good surprises of this season, but if Brooklyn’s 136-133 victory over Indiana on Saturday night ends up separating the two teams in the standings… it is better not to do so. And no single December win can dictate the course of a regular season.

BUT Brooklyn’s Indiana triumph can certainly be a cornerstone. Led by Cam Thomas, comfortable in his preferred role as primary offensive builder, and backed by the eight Nets who played significant minutes, there was nothing mystifying about the victory. Jacque Vaughn & Co. didn’t concoct a brilliant plan to fill a talent gap – although a second-half zone paid significant dividends – the staff also had a solid game. Brooklyn just came out and took it. Simple, really.

Markieff Morris openly called it a “trick game” for Indiana after the victory. Patty Mills added: ‘I don’t think there’s a lot of science to it. It was all about having fun and having fun, and it was a very enjoyable game to participate in.

How else could you explain the NBA’s worst rebounding team to grab 29 offensive rebounds, a new all-league record this season? Certainly, Day’Ron Sharpe, who had nine o-boards himself, added a talent and a certain type of athleticism normally absent from Brooklyn’s rotation. But these 29 boards are more reflective of the energy with which Brooklyn played, an energy that makes basketball, both playing and watching, simply fun.

Brooklyn is having fun now. Schedule managers cursing them for dropping a back-to-back at the end of their most successful streak of the season, a 6-1 at home? No, not a curse at all, just a chance to watch the young guys play and for veterans Morris and Mills to remind us that they are more than just vocal leaders.

So yeah, Brooklyn is having fun right now. Maybe they even have a little swagger, as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings. The Nets’ next chance to build on that momentum and claim their 11th win in 14 tries comes Monday night when they travel to Washington to face the Wizards. The Nets beat the Wiz twice last month, one blowout, the other close. Washington has lost six straight and nine of its last 10 games.

Where to watch the game

Rinse and repeat. YES Network and YES App have the TV broadcast, and WFAN-FM has the radio appeal for this one. All local, with a start time of 7:00 p.m. ET.


The regulars all seem to be back, with the exception of Royce O’Neale, who is still out for personal reasons. Nic Claxton, too, is questionable as he recovers from a strained right hamstring. David Duke Jr. and Kessler Edwards play in Long Island against the Wizards’ Capital City Go-Go, as does Alondes Williams, who made his Nets debut in Indianapolis.

With Washington, we’ll start with what we know for sure: Bradley Beal (hamstring), Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring) are out. Additionally, Monte Morris (ankle) and Anthony Gill (heel) are both questionable for Monday’s contest. Will Barton is not on the Wizards injury report, which means he should be available.

The game

Regardless of whether Monte Morris and Anthony Gill end up playing, expect to see a healthy dose of Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. This is especially true with Bradley Beal out of the lineup, but those two have played regardless of Beal’s status this season.

Porzingis comes off a 30/15/5 line in Washington’s last game against the Clippers; he scored 59 points overall over the weekend. Offensively, he thrives in a system that offers him a variety of touches. Porzingis is displaying offsets more frequently and still shooting three times, but what has really blossomed this season is his ability to drive the ball.

The cycle of death and rebirth of NBA hype is happening at lightning speed. It’s been ages since Knicks fans were furious to recruit a Latvian before falling in love with him. Even the Luka + KP era of Dallas basketball is old, old news. So now Porzingis, just 27, is part of a Wizards team made to be forgotten in the NBA history books. But the movement abilities he has at 7’3″, even after consistent injuries, combined with his shooting touch make him a special watch. Add great defense around the basket, especially in drop coverage, and Porzingis should be an All-Star this year. Really. It’s just that most of us haven’t been paying attention.

Kyle Kuzma will likely run out of All-Star votes this season, but he was Washington’s other bright spot; Appropriate, then, that rumors of a trade request began to circulate. Kuzma is averaging 21 points per game this season while shooting just 33% from deep, despite shooting it recently (13 for his last 24). If Brooklyn doesn’t treat him with due respect, they’ll be in a shootout with a 6’9” winger who has no conscience, improved his score by two points and his draw. Not ideal.

If Nic Claxton is in the game, his matchup with Porzingis should be fun. Otherwise, I expect to see extended minutes with Kevin Durant playing all five and more than a few with Day’Ron Sharpe coming out of his 20/13 game at Indy.

Specifically, I expect to see a five-shooter lineup, a lineup that Jacque Vaughn has been more willing to play than his predecessor Steve Nash. Washington would certainly have a hard time containing it, given that their defensive anchor, Porzingis, is much more comfortable like that, an anchor, than venturing away from the basket. Here he drops the winning field to a five Clippers formation:

Even Kristaps guarding Ben Simmons, however, doesn’t pose a huge threat to Brooklyn’s offense. Given Simmons’ penchant for dribbling transfers and many Nets’ penchant for mid-range jumpers, this doesn’t look like a picnic at the National Mall for Porzingis.

Either way, Washington is a decent match for Brooklyn. They aren’t overtly physical, playing their top offensive rebound threat, Daniel Gafford, 13 minutes a game. As a team, they rank 22nd in free throw attempts per game. Ideally, their attack stretches the opponent; Brooklyn shows up at the elongated arena. Claxton and Simmons guard very well 30 feet from the basket.

As Zach Lowe wrote of Claxton last week:

Claxton can circle guards on switches or barricade the edge in conservative patterns; opponents shoot just 53% on the basket with Claxton close. He’s not strong enough to plug Brooklyn’s rebound leaks, but he’s catching up to the defensive boards at his career-best pace.

Following his 33-point outburst, we might see more than just minutes from Cam Thomas. The difference in his mojo when he facilitates attacking versus playing the ball is so stark, you have to wonder if Thomas is the way to reduce other people’s charges in the short term. He’s had his ups and (mostly) downs this season, but scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter of an NBA win isn’t easy. Is Brooklyn willing to let Cam play in isolation and pick-and-roll an extra four minutes per game to give Durant a rest? Is it a solution that benefits all parties involved? From Monday’s game in Washington, we could soon see how this coaching staff appreciates Cam Thomas.

From the safe

This game-winning Joe Johnson doesn’t have as much sparkle as its many others, probably because it wasn’t technically a buzzer-beater, but it’s as good as any of them. The classic dejected call from the Wizards show, Gerald Wallace taunting the fans in the corner as the ball drops into the hoop. Pretty, pretty good.

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