Brooklyn Nets Take Aim at West Coast Gauntlet
The Nets tip off challenging five-game trip Saturday against Golden State
After playing 16 of their first 27 games at home — with two of the away games quick trips to play the Knicks and Sixers, no flight necessary — the Brooklyn Nets are really hitting the road for the first time this season. They haven’t had an away stretch of more than two games, but on Saturday night they’ll tip off a five-game West Coast trip, with four California stops and one in Phoenix.
The trip features three of the top four teams in the Western Conference on the slate, plus a Sacramento squad that has won seven of its last nine and Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
“Going to be a great challenge for us,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “I hope we match the level that is asked of us and play to our level. That’s the thing; I still, and I think will largely this season think about are we growing, are we improving rather than results. The idea is to win the games, but the big picture is that, are we getting better? Are we putting ourselves in a better position to be a more formidable team down the road. That’s the No. 1 priority for me over wins and losses right now. There’s so much thrown at us. We’ve got so many guys in and out of the lineup. I think our three stars have played five-and-a-half games together, so we’re still in our infancy as far as trying to jell and put this group together. The growth is the most important thing, and if we can win some games while we’re growing, that would be a perfect world.”
Let’s take a look at what awaits the Nets on the court during their journey.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Saturday, Feb. 13; 8:30 p.m.
Things have changed since the Nets beat the Warriors 125-99 on opening night. Golden State really struggled out of the gate with Draymond Green sidelined, following with a one-sided loss to Milwaukee. But they then won four of five, getting Green back in the fifth game of the season. Now they’re 14-12 and in playoff position with Steph Curry doing Steph Curry things — second in the league with 30.0 points per game and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range on a league-high 11.6 attempts per game. They’ve lost rookie James Wiseman, their 7-foot center who showed some real explosiveness on opening night at Barclays Center. Wiseman’s sprained wrist hasn’t helped the Warriors’ rebounding issues, but they’ve overall been strong defensively in terms of defensive efficiency and field goal percentage allowed.
Monday, Feb. 15; 10:00 p.m.
The Kings are 12-12 and ninth in the Western Conference, but showing some pop lately. Before Tuesday’s loss to the Sixers, they had won four straight — the last two against the Nuggets and Clippers — and seven of eight. Rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton is rounding out a backcourt rotation with De’Aaron Fox, who’s averaging 23.4 points and 6.7 assists, and Buddy Hield, who’s third in the league with 94 3-pointers made. Veteran forward Harrison Barnes — still only 28 years old but now in year nine — has been averaging 16.7 points on 49.1/41.0/85.7 shooting splits and chipping in 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Tuesday, Feb. 16; 10:00 p.m.
The Suns went 8-0 in the bubble last summer, plugged in Chris Paul in a trade from Oklahoma City, and boom they’re 15-9 and fourth in the West after 10 seasons without a playoff appearance. Paul steadies a young core — the other four of Phoenix’s top scorers are 24 of younger, starting with guard Devin Booker averaging 23.8 points and center Deandre Ayton ranking fourth in the league with 12.6 rebounds per game while averaging 14.1 points on 57.4 percent shooting. Paul is fifth in the NBA with 8.1 assists per game and averaging 16.9 points in his 16th NBA season. Forward Jae Crowder is another veteran addition firming things up for Phoenix.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Thursday, Feb. 18; 10:00 p.m.
Right now, Philadelphia is No. 1 in the East and Milwaukee No. 2, and Utah is No. 1 in the West. The Nets have beaten all three. That leaves the Lakers among the NBA’s current top four seeds, and this will be Brooklyn’s first shot at them. They’ve got the league’s best defense so far, with a 104.5 efficiency through 26 games, and they’re third in net rating as well (7.8). Not much mystery here. LeBron James is averaging 25.5 points on 49.5/39.4 splits while taking a career-high 6.9 threes per game, while Anthony Davis is averaging 22.3 points on 53.0 percent shooting with 8.6 rebounds. Los Angeles has reworked the supporting cast this year in adding Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, and they’ve settled in as the team’s No. 3 and No. 4 scorers.
Sunday, Feb. 21; 8:00 p.m.
When the Nets saw the Clippers 10 days ago, Brooklyn was peaking. That was the Nets’ ninth win in 12 games, a stretch that began two games before James Harden’s debut, and their fifth and most recent game in which they’ve had the Harden/Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving trio playing together for the full game. Irving had 39 points, Durant scored 28, and Harden had a 23 and 14 points/assists double-double while Brooklyn shot 57.0 percent for the third straight game and won 124-120. Things went sideways a little after that with COVID protocols cutting into Durant’s availability, but barring any complications on the road trip, the Nets will have four games with the big three back together before getting this LA rematch.
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