Nets vs. Wizards: Another Key Conference Matchup for Brooklyn
After Friday's loss to Orlando, Brooklyn takes on Washington
When the Brooklyn Nets play their second game of the NBA restart on Sunday, they’ll be facing off against a Washington Wizards team operating under similar circumstances. The Nets are in Orlando without several frontline players, and added five new players for the restart. Washington has been without the injured John Wall all season, and does not have either Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans in Orlando.
Beal was second in the NBA in scoring with 30.5 points per game through the March stoppage of play, while Bertans was Washington’s No. 2 scorer with 15.4 points per game while shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range.
So any scouting report the Nets might put together based on what Washington has done previously this season is moot.
“Really had to dig in to what their team is currently, and that’s being pushed by their guards, whether that is Ish Smith and Shabazz Napier pushing the pace, Jerome Robinson or (Troy) Brown shooting the basketball for them, and then Thomas Bryant, his ability to play inside-outside,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn. “Totally different roster than we’ve seen before, which makes a different approach as far as scouting, kind of taking away those previous games versus them and treating these games as totally different.”
For all those unknowns, there’s a lot riding on the game. After both teams lost their Orlando openers, the Nets have a six-game lead on the Wizards in the standings. If the Nets remain in eighth place, and Washington finishes four games back or fewer, there will be a play-in for the final playoff berth. If the Nets win Sunday, they’ll be seven games up with six to play.
The Nets are still figuring themselves out as well. Vaughn said before the opener that the Brooklyn rotation could be fluid, and in the 128-118 loss to the Magic he moved Lance Thomas into the starting lineup after Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started the three scrimmage games.
“It’s really going to be, just because of the circumstances that we’re in, it’s going to be really a game-to-game kind of diagnosis for us,” said Vaughn. “It was great to see TLC make shots. The start of Lance being in that first group, it just gives us stability and hopefully some size also. Would have been a tough matchup for TLC to guard Aaron Gordon in the post, and Aaron Gordon was still effective in the game. So we’ll continue to diagnose where we are as a roster.”
TLC FINDS THE RANGE
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot broke out of a shooting slump with 24 points against the Magic on Friday, making 5-of-8 3-pointers. Throughout Brooklyn’s scrimmage games, the Nets generated open looks beyond the arc for their frontcourt players, whether it was Rodions Kurucs at the 5 or the 6-foot-7 Luwawu-Cabarrot at the 4.
“We move a lot, we run a lot,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “With the pace we have, the defense against us is going to make some mistakes. We’ve got to take advantage of that, and I think that’s where my open shots are coming from and everybody else, too. So, we’ve got to take advantage of that against every team and knock them down.”
DEFENSES LOCK IN ON LEVERT
The aggressive tack that Orlando took in defending Caris LeVert, doubling and trapping out of pick-and-rolls, is likely to be common as the Nets go forward. LeVert is the clear leader of Brooklyn’s offense and finished with 17 points and seven assists against the Magic.
“I think we’re going to see that pretty much from here on out,” said Joe Harris. “Caris is our best offensive player, and teams, they’re going to key in on certain guys, take away certain players and make other guys try and make plays. That’s the way most teams in this league play. We just have to do a better job adjusting and making things easier around him. I think tonight they trapped a lot of his pick-and-rolls; we have to figure out how to get him the ball, keep him involved in actions and not allowing teams to take him out of it. So again one of those things we’re definitely going to go have to back to the tape, look at it and adjust accordingly.”
DONTA HALL DEBUTS
Rookie Donta Hall played 12 minutes on Friday night, and Jacque Vaughn said Saturday, “you watch those 12 minutes, and he felt all 12 of them.” The forward/center has only had a week of practice after signing with the Nets as a Substitute Player and getting out of quarantine.
Hall finished with eight points and three rebounds.
“I thought Donta was really good in his minutes,” said Vaughn after Friday’s game. “I asked him before he checked into the game did he have his shirttail tucked in, just to give him a little bit of warning. The big part of him going forward is just getting acclimated and getting his conditioning up, just from being away from the group. We’ll again address whether or not we have an advantage with him on the floor or not. He’s definitely a piece going forward I think as far as having minutes, but it’s going to be on a game-by-game basis.”
FOCUS ON DEFENSE
While the Nets offense stalled in the middle quarters on Friday, a strong start and finish delivered solid overall numbers. The defense was another case, as the Nets allowed Orlando to shoot 52.9 percent and score 128 points, with 111 through three quarters. Solidifying that end of the floor is crucial.
“It’s gonna be difficult, but we have to be creative,” said Garrett Temple on Friday night after the game. “We’re gonna watch film. JV’s a great coach. Him and our assistants are gonna put together some things that’ll help put us in positions to defend better. We understand that it’s gonna be an uphill battle, but we have pieces. When you have a shot-blocker like a Jarrett Allen, guys like Lance Thomas, Caris, we’ve got guys that can defend. So I think it’s more of a mindset. We’ve gotta just figure out ways to put us in positions defensively to be better.”
ABOUT THE WIZARDS
As noted above, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans are out, so who’s in? Rookie forward Rui Hachimura is Washington’s leading active scorer with 15.4 points per game. Center Thomas Bryant is next, with 12.2 points. As Jacque Vaughn noted, undersized but energetic guards Shabazz Napier and Ish Smith are dictating Washington’s pace. The Wizards dropped their opener to Phoenix on Friday, 125-112. Hachimura had 21 points and Jerome Robinson had 20.