Nets travel to Charlotte looking to build momentum

In the game preview prior to Friday night’s victory in Washington, I wrote that Kyrie Irving, and these Nets in general, have given fans real moments of joy over the last few seasons. I touched on Irving’s individual greatness, but that’s not all there is:

  • “Beating Boston in a playoff series” is just about the best sentence around
  • There’s the now-legendary 2021 west coast road-trip, the peak of the Harden-led Nets
  • One of the great playoff comebacks in Nets history, in Game 5 vs. the Milwaukee Bucks

And that’s what hurts the most about this ongoing organizational implosion: The fleeting moments of joy have stuck with us all. No matter how far away championship-level success feels right now, there are worse spots to be in than having Kevin Durant on your team.

Actually, most of those spots are far worse. An organizational re-tooling, no matter how necessary or inevitable you think that is right now, is willingly letting go of the rope 80% of the way up the mountain because you know the last 20% will kill you in your current condition. Remembering the truly joyous moments that came with rooting for this Nets team makes letting go of that rope even harder.

Friday’s game against Washington was another one of those moments, its unexpectedness only making it more enjoyable. Sure, the Wizards are as forgettable as yesterday’s news, but Brooklyn seemed in no condition to blow the doors off any NBA opponent. And it wasn’t just that it was the largest road win (3rd-largest overall) in franchise history, it’s how they did it.

The score was 58-57 after Brooklyn had allowed Washington to creep back into it, towards the end of a solid first half. Were they really going to waste 22 strong minutes of basketball? All signs pointed to yes. Instead, the ended the game on a 70-29 run, which can’t really be called a run considering took place over more than half the game. I just don’t know how else to describe it.

Durant turned himself into a liar after telling us all to get used to his turnovers, rather finishing with 11 assists and only two TOs. He also had the highlight of Brooklyn’s young season so far:

If you end up falling like Peter Griffin down his staircase, it’s not really an ankle-breaker, so much as a homicide.

Elsewhere, Nic Claxton went 9-10 from the field (and is now shooting 72.9%2.0, best in the NBA). Edmund Sumner continued his relentless barrages towards the rim to great effectiveness, and Cam Thomas was indeed freed, to the tune of 17 points and six dimes. Brooklyn shot 50% from deep. Yuta Watanabe looks better than even I, an outspoken supporter, could have hoped for.

I don’t know where the hell that came from, and I don’t know if it’s enough to save Brooklyn’s season. But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Luckily, my next chance comes on Saturday night, when the Nets visit Charlotte to play the Hornets, in a matchup of teams on the second night of a back-to-back.

Where to follow the game

The telecast will be on YES Network and the YES App, and WFAN-FM has the radio call for Brooklyn. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. ET from Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Injuries

Kyrie Irving: still suspended. Ben Simmons: still in New York City with a knee issue. T.J. Warren: Still rehabbing. Seth Curry: stil- wait! He’s expected to play for the first time since October 29 and just the second time all season. It did not go well for the younger Curry brother in his season debut, who looked relatively sluggish and couldn’t hit the ground with a bowling ball. Still, he should provide a lift for a Brooklyn team that is coming off a game on the previous night.

For Charlotte, the main reason to watch their team still hasn’t played this season. LaMelo Ball remains out with a back injury, although coach Steve Clifford recently stated a return may be soon to come. Meanwhile, Cody Martin (quad), Terry Rozier (ankle), and Gordon Hayward (shoulder) all missed the Hornets’ Friday game vs. Memphis, and since no update has been given on their statuses for Saturday, it’s safe to assume all are questionable for now.

The game

The Charlotte Hornets got absolutely shellacked by Memphis on Friday night, 130-99. Like the Nets, they sit at 3-6 with injuries to key pieces already piling up. They have the 26th-ranked offense and the 16th-ranked defense in the league, a Steve Clifford special. Sure, the talent may be lacking, but they’re not gonna totally embarrass themselves on defense.

Still, without LaMelo Ball, the Hornets are not highly competitive, and a whole hell of a lot less fun. They are certainly worse when Gordon Hayward, who is often missing, is missing. In fact, Charlotte has a winning record over the last three seasons when he plays.

These early-season injuries, though, may be pushing the Hornets down an ultimately fruitful path, one that leads to a chance at grabbing Victor Wembanyama or another blue-chip prospect in this allegedly strong draft class.

Such is the state of Charlotte’s ball-team right now, though, that just nine games into the season its tanking is on the mind. Oh well. With LaMelo Ball out, an imagined future is the most exciting thing about the franchise for now.

Still, the Hornets won’t beat themselves, particularly after getting embarrassed on their home floor less than 24 hours before Saturday’s tip-off. No, this is probably not a good team without injuries, and the doctor’s report only makes things bleaker. But they do play hard under Clifford, with an average defense and an offense that shares the ball (8th in assist rate), and not *always* with the other team (19th in turnover rate).

If Brooklyn truly craves their first winning streak of the season, they’ll take this opponent more seriously than they took the Indiana Pacers.

Also tonight, expect Clifford who was a Nets coaching consultant under Steve Nash to get asked questions about Nash’s demise.

Player to Watch

P.J. Washington. The numbers aren’t anything eye-popping this year, as he’s averaging just 15 points on 41% from the floor and 34% from deep. But the Kentucky product, in his fourth NBA season, is hurt by Ball’s absence more than any other Hornet. At 6’7”, he’s more big than wing, as his offense comes from picking and either popping or rolling. He also can attack an occasional closeout when he’s stationed on the perimeter. Essentially, it’s tough for Washington to create from a standstill, but he is capable vs. a defense already in rotation.

His name is always in trade speculation due to his age, the fact he’ll be a restricted free agent next season, and because he’s a big man (even if he’s not so big) that can shoot (37% career-wise, from deep). I’m sure you’ve even heard his name from fellow Nets fans.

But I always enjoy watching him play because I view him as the barometer for just how talented this league is. Sure, his breakout hasn’t happened yet, but he ended last season at 23 years old. There’s the athleticism, versatility, and shooting, to varying degrees, in his game that we all crave from players his size. He even had 42 points in a game last year.

And absolutely nobody cares. Seriously, I have never heard his name mentioned when it comes promising young players! Sure, he’s inconsistent but when has a player’s inconsistency ever prevented an army of social media accounts using said player’s likeness from popping up. And I don’t buy it’s because he’s in Charlotte. I think the NBA is just so awash with talent, particularly young talent, that there are some victims that miss out on the hype. It’s not that Washington is the next Dominique Wilkins. It’s just that he is young and talented, and there has never been any hype around him.

Having said all this, he will either score four points on Saturday, or torch the Nets for 31 and 12 in a win.

From the Vault

Another moment from the 2018-19 season, which none of us will ever escape. Maybe I just can’t resist the nostalgia and the feelings that came along with that year. Regardless, this was a thriller of a game. I’ve attached the full highlights but skip ahead to relive the two overtimes, which end with a game-winning steal and lay-up from Joe Harris.

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