Brooklyn Nets Return Home to Face Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets

Nets getting contributions from deep center rotation

Hello Brooklyn, we’re just passing through.

On the heels of a four-game road trip, the Nets are back at Barclays Center for a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday before heading out on a five-game, West Coast road trip.

The Nets have already played six of their last eight games on the road and by the time they play the Nuggets back in Denver on Feb. 6 it will add up to 11 out of 15 games away from Barclays Center. After splitting the four games on their most recent trip, the Nets have the league’s second-best road record at 17-5 with a .739 winning percentage.

For their home stopover, they’ll be facing two teams hanging out in the middle of the Western Conference standings, kept afloat to this point largely by the individual greatness of their stars — the Lakers’ LeBron James and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic.

James is second in the league in scoring behind Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, averaging 29.0 points with 7.7 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game. The Nets beat the Lakers 122-115 in Los Angeles on Dec. 25 behind James Harden’s triple-double of 36 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, plus 34 points from Patty Mills, who made 8-of-13 3-pointers. The Lakers are 23-24 after losing five of their last seven games.

Jokic put up four straight triple-doubles before going for 34 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in Sunday’s win against the Pistons. The Nuggets, 24-21, will be at Detroit on Tuesday night before coming to Brooklyn. Jokic is second in the league with 13.8 rebounds per game while averaging 26.1 points and 7.6 assists.

The two teams offer interesting matchups for Brooklyn’s fluid center rotation. While the Lakers have moved past their brief spell of starting James as the nominal center, they’re still playing relatively small. Dwight Howard has been back starting but playing fewer than 15 minutes per game over the last week. Meanwhile, the Nuggets run their offense through the 6-foot-11, 284-pound Jokic, last season’s MVP.

The Nets have been mixing and matching amongst rookie Day’ron Sharpe and veterans LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin lately, with Nic Claxton sidelined by left hamstring tightness but due back soon.

“Everyone does something a little bit different,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “So LaMarcus has had some pretty impressive games on this trip and Day’ron gives an element we don’t have with his activity and athleticism and hands and feel. BG gives us physicality, experience, IQ and so trying to find minutes for everyone is difficult but Blake definitely gives us that physicality and the IQ that is important at times for us and we need it.”

Sharpe found himself in the starting lineup while both Claxton and Aldridge — foot soreness sidelined him for five games — were out. The rookie has started the last seven games and averaged 7.4 rebounds in 19.9 minutes over the last nine — a rate of 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes that is among the best in the league.

Aldridge, currently 10th in the league with a 56.9 field goal percentage, returned against Cleveland last Monday at the start of the road trip and two nights later went for a season-high 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting in a win at Washington. In his return to San Antonio on Friday, Aldridge had 16 points and seven rebounds. With 20,399 career points, Aldridge is nine points away from passing former Net Joe Johnson for 45th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Griffin, who began the season as the starting center, has worked his way back into the rotation and given the Nets crucial minutes and toughness.

Claxton has missed the last seven games after leaving the game in Portland on Jan. 10. In Brooklyn’s previous 10 games, nine of which he started, Claxton had averaged 13.6 points on 70.6 percent shooting with 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 27.4 minutes per game.

So Nash has options to deal with two very different center challenges over the next two games, and that could grow with Claxton’s return.

“I think it would be rare to play more than three, very situational,” said Nash. “That’s part of it. I think guys got to accept that we’re here for something bigger than ourselves and that some nights you play, some nights you don’t play. Some nights you play a lot, some nights you play a lot less and it’s just got to be an acceptance that that role is fluid and that we have a committee of guys. The more that those guys can band together and serve the team by committee, the better our team will be. The better our team spirit will be and I think recently they’ve been great at that.”

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