The two-week, seven-game road trip that has loomed in the distance is getting closer, and the Brooklyn Nets have just two games remaining before they head west to open the trip in Oklahoma City next Wednesday.
In their final home game before departing, the Nets (34-33) will host the Detroit Pistons (32-31) on Monday. The two teams are nearly even in the standings. But first they visit Atlanta on Saturday to visit the young and improving Hawks (22-44).
It would be nice to bank a few more wins before hitting the road, but Nets coach Kenny Atkinson doesn't want to put too much emphasis on a single game.
"I never had that philosophy, this is kind of the biggest game of the year, any of that," said Atkinson. "We just follow our process, stay current, ready for this next game and also knowing what's behind us. I think it's staying focused on the Nets process and improving. Haven't all year made one game bigger than another. Doesn't exist in my mindset. That being said, the underlying thing, guys know, they know the schedule, they know the standings so everybody can take that as they wish. But we don't get on the whiteboard and say, 'Must beat Atlanta.' It's Atlanta, it's Utah, it's Clippers, it's Lakers, it's the whole thing."
STACKING THE SHOOTERS
In moving Allen Crabbe into the starting lineup in a shuffle that also included Rodions Kurucs, the Nets have flooded their starting lineup with 3-point threats.
D'Angelo Russell is one of the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooters, ranking sixth in 3-pointers attempted and ninth in 3-pointers made. Joe Harris leads the league in 3-point percentage. Kurucs made five 3-pointers against the Mavericks on Monday and brings a shooting threat to the power forward spot. Crabbe finished second in the league in 3-point shooting in 2017-18 and set a Nets single-season record for 3-pointers made last season.
“It’s just opens up a lot, especially if we have it going from three that night," said Crabbe. "Guys tend to not leave us. You’ve got to guard the pick-and-roll, two-on-two. I feel like we’re pretty effective with that. … I feel like it puts a lot of pressure because you’ve got guys who can finish at the rim or guys who can hit the mid-range jumper or throw the lob up to (Jarrett Allen) or drop it off to Ed (Davis). I think it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, really. It just opens up stuff for us shooters, too. I think it’s very effective when all of us are out there on the floor.”
That five-man lineup has seen time together in six games this season, but 21 of its 24 total minutes together have come in the last two. During those 21 minutes over the last two games the Nets are shooting 52.5 percent overall and 42.1 percent from 3-point range with an effective field goal percentage of 62.5. Brooklyn's overall effective field goal percentage for the full season is 52.2
"Jarrett Allen got a ton of alley-oops and our pick and roll was working between Jarrett and D'Angelo Russell because they're staying home on Joe and AC," said Kenny Atkinson. "Even though (Allen Crabbe is) not getting the numbers right now, I think his value in that starting lineup is bigger than we all think. I think his defense has been really solid too."
The rotation changes the Nets have affected over the last two games have shown up on the defensive end as well. In the wins over Dallas and Cleveland, the Nets have a defensive rating of 94.2 compared to their full-season rating of 109.4.
ABOUT THE HAWKS
With four starters aged 24 or younger — and three of them first- or second-year players — the Hawks are pursuing a youthful rebuild, and showing some progress lately. They're 22-44 overall, but 16-21 over their last 37 games. Atlanta is 25th in the NBA in offensive rating for the full season (106.6) but 17th over those 37 games (110.4). The defense is still lagging, and Atlanta remains 28th in the league in defensive rating (112.7). The Hawks are playing the league's second-fastest pace (104.32). Second-year forward John Collins averages 19.4 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 56.9 percent and rookie guard Trae Young averages 18.3 points and 7.7 assists. A second rookie, Kevin Huerter, has moved into the starting lineup and averages 9.3 points while shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range.