With the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Barclays Center on Thursday night, the Brooklyn Nets complete a five-game stretch of playoff-bound opponents, including both conference leaders. There’s been a common thread between the Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers, whom the Nets played twice within the week. All are among the top eight in the NBA in defensive rating, with the Bucks, Sixers and Lakers all in the top four.
“They’re an elite defense,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson of the fourth-rated Lakers. “(JaVale) McGee and (Dwight) Howard are absolutely playing, really protecting the rim. They obviously have elite perimeter defenders with LeBron (James) and Danny Green and all those guys. Listen, Anthony Davis, we all know, he’s turned into really a two-way player in this league and I’m really impressed by his evolution over the years where he’s become really hard to score on on the other end. Great challenge for us.”
Running into those groups has extended an offensive downturn that began when both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert were sidelined by injury. Irving returned from a shoulder injury on Jan. 12, a week after LeVert, but missed Monday’s loss against Philadelphia with a sore hamstring.
“I just think, the healthier we get, the better we’re gonna be,” said Atkinson. “That’s all. We’ve just got to get consistently healthy, get reps under our belt. We have enough talent here, enough players where we’re just right now going through a tough time with guys being in and out. Once we can get those ducks in a row and start knocking out some games where we’re got consistent lineups and consistency in terms of our health, I think we’ll get better. It’s that simple.”
IRVING PROBABLE, JORDAN QUESTIONABLE
Kenny Atkinson said Kyrie Irving was probable to play against the Lakers after missing Monday’s game, but center DeAndre Jordan was questionable due to the dislocated finger he suffered a week ago in Philadelphia that has kept him out of the last two games. Irving practiced on Wednesday, but Jordan did not.
Rookie center Nic Claxton, who took a hard fall on his shoulder against the Sixers on Monday, is also questionable and did not practice.
Claxton has been impressive in the last two games filling in for Jordan behind starter Jarrett Allen, averaging 14.5 points while shooting 13-for-20 (65 percent) in 18 minutes per game.
“I always say how good I think he’s gonna be,” said Atkinson after Monday’s game. “He’s got big-time talent. Big-time hunger. Wants to be great. That’s a lot of guys in this league, but I think he’s got something else in there. He’s got a knack. His athleticism, he can hang with a team like that. His strength, we saw on the court, he’s definitely got to get stronger, but once he gets stronger, and he can shoot the 3. That bodes well for us in the future.”
ANDERSON TO LONG ISLAND
The Brooklyn Nets let Justin Anderson go at the end of a 10-day contract last week, but earlier this week, the Long Island Nets acquired Anderson from Raptors 905 of the G League.
Anderson had returned to Raptors 905 for two games following his stint with Brooklyn. He was acquired in exchange for forward/center Henry Ellenson, whom Brooklyn had waived from a two-way contract on Jan. 3.
The addition of Anderson continues some changes for Long Island. The Nets have turned over both of their two-way spots this season, with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot now on a 10-day deal with Brooklyn. Guards Chris Chiozza and Jeremiah Martin now hold the two-way contracts and have stepped into significant roles for Long Island, with each averaging 34 minutes per game since joining the organization.
“Justin, he’s got experience,” said Kenny Atkinson. “He did everything we asked when we had him. He understands what we’re doing, our corporate knowledge of the system really will help Long Island. It’s always nice to have experience around those young guys. Jeremiah Martin’s been good since we’ve got him. It’s good for our continuity, good for our program Justin’s with him.”
ABOUT THE LAKERS
This is the first meeting of the season between the Nets and Lakers, who lead the Western Conference and took a 34-9 record into Wednesday night’s game at New York.
Los Angeles is first in the NBA in field goal percentage (48.5), fourth in effective field goal percentage (54.7) and fourth in offensive rating (114.9). The Lakers’ offense is focused more inside the arc than from 3-point range, where they are 21st in 3-pointers made (11.0), 23rd in 3-pointers attempted (30.5) and 11th in 3-point percentage (35.9). They’re also fifth in assists per game (26.0).
Defensively, the Lakers are fourth in defensive rating (105.5) and opponent effective field goal percentage (50.4), first in blocks (7.3) and sixth in steals (8.4). Los Angeles has a net rating of 7.5, second in the league.
Anthony Davis returned on Monday against Boston after missing five games. He leads the Lakers with 26.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game and averages 3.2 assists. LeBron James averages 25.2 points, leads L.A. with 11.0 assists, and averages 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range and Danny Green is shooting 38.3.