The Brooklyn Nets looked excellent against the Pelicans after some time off, Jarrett Allen duels with Anthony Davis, and a road trip looms.
Starting 5 is a semi-weekly column that dives into five different Brooklyn Nets topics. We’ll discuss one positive, one negative, dive into some film, preview the road ahead, and touch on one national story. Plus, we’ll drop some links to great Nets stories as well.
Positive: Rest, Rest, Rest
The Nets looked completely spent during their blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 29. They were playing their third game in four nights and clearly fatigued. Luckily, they had three nights off before they welcomed the New Orleans Pelicans to Barclays Center.
When they’re rested, Brooklyn is a formidable foe and Wednesday proved that. The schedule can be a team’s best friend or its worst enemy. Three days off are a gift in the NBA. That being said, the Nets took care of business at home and made sure to take advantage of their days off.
They jumped out to an early lead against the Pelicans and despite a late comeback led by Anthony Davis, the Nets held on. The balanced effort from Brooklyn was the blueprint for how the Nets need to play. Brooklyn’s bench outscored New Orleans’ by 50 points.
Negative: Troubling Injuries
The Nets are clearly at their best when they’re rested, but they also need to get healthy too. Allen Crabbe is dealing with a bruised fat pad that has kept him out of the last 10 games. To make matters worse, he’s expected to be out for at least another week to 10 days.
“No, we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” coach Kenny Atkinson said to Brian Lewis of the New York Post when asked about the potential for surgery. “I haven’t gotten to that point. It will be a re-evaluation in a week to 10 days and then go from there.”
Crabbe has struggled to find consistency this season, but the Nets are certainly better with him in the lineup. Rodions Kurucs is playing well enough to keep his role in the starting rotation, but Crabbe performed better as a starter when healthy. It will be interesting to see what head coach Kenny Atkinson decides to do when Crabbe is healthy, whenever that may be.
But Crabbe isn’t the only Net dealing with an uncertain injury. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is dealing with a right adductor strain and his timetable for a return is somewhat unclear. Atkinson told reporters that it’s not as serious as the injury Hollis-Jefferson suffered over the summer.
That being said, Hollis-Jefferson has been one of the better defenders on the roster and the Nets could use him back as soon as possible. He is often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player down the stretch of games.
Not to mention, Caris LeVert should be back at some point this season, but mums the word on when that will actually be. Brooklyn is thriving despite their injuries, but they can’t afford to lose another key contributor.
Mini Film Room: Jarrett Allen Duels With Anthony Davis
Jarrett Allen is making a name for himself as one of the most exciting shot blockers in the league, if not one of the best. Allen was at it again on Wednesday, rejecting another team’s star player. Anthony Davis learned what LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Blake Griffin already know. The slight of frame Allen is always lurking.
The Brooklyn big man’s rejections of Davis weren’t quite as epic as some of his earlier blocks this season, but they were very impactful. The second block led to a breakout where Shabazz Napier found Joe Harris for an open three-pointer. It was a five-point swing started with Allen’s swat.
Of course, Davis put up gaudy numbers against Allen, but that’s to be expected. The Pelicans star is a top-five player in the league and Allen doesn’t turn 21 until April. The Nets can live with Davis’ 34 points and 26 rebounds because Allen showed he can hang with Davis.
Allen’s 10 points and 11 rebounds pale in comparison to Davis’ stat line, but Allen did draw a couple early fouls on Davis that forced the big man to play more conservatively on defense. The Nets took advantage of this in the first half and made sure to attack the rim.
Allen is showing consistent signs of growth. The team knows he’s their center of the future and although Davis outplayed Allen, the second-year Net held his own. The box score is somewhat misleading in this case.
Look Ahead: 3-Game Road Trip
The well-rested Nets hit the road again for a three-game road trip in four nights. With the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics on the schedule, head coach Kenny Atkinson’s squad would love to take two of three.
Brooklyn may be catching these teams at the right time. Following their Wednesday night loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Memphis Grizzlies had a team meeting that turned physical between Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Furthermore, the Bulls are one of the worst teams in the league. Even on the road, that’s a game the Nets should win — if they’re serious about contending for a playoff spot this season.
Finally, the Boston Celtics still haven’t quite hit their stride yet. Following an eight-game winning streak, Boston has lost five of their last eight. Moreover, Kyrie Irving is day-to-day with an eye injury. Brooklyn can capitalize on the sputtering Celtics before they are firing on all cylinders.
Around The League
The Detroit Pistons are in a complete freefall of late. Despite beating the aforementioned Grizzlies, Detroit has lost 12 of their last 16 games and they are barely holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. For a moment on Wednesday night, the Nets were tied with Detroit in the standings.
Nonetheless, Brooklyn is just a half-game behind the Pistons in the Eastern Conference and the Nets have looked like the vastly superior team for the past month. It’s at the point in the season where the playoff picture is starting to take shape. Brooklyn may narrowly miss out on the postseason, but they’ll battle with teams like the Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, and Miami Heat. After all, Brooklyn is only 1.5 games back of the sixth-seeded Heat.
The last three seeds in the East are wide open.
Here are some of the best writing and reporting on the Nets:
- Tyler Blint-Welsh of the Washington Post takes a close look at Atkinson’s player development background and how it’s impacting the recent success in Brooklyn.
- In a classy move, the Nets waived their two-way player Alan Williams so he could pursue a more lucrative contract in China. Brian Lewis of the New York Post breaks down the situation.
- The Nets are openly discussing their playoff hopes as the calendar turns to 2019. Newsday’s Brian Heyman spoke to some Nets players about the potential of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.