Brooklyn’s frontcourt is an ever-evolving puzzle, but Nic Claxton’s piece of it all continues to grow bigger.
The Nets are headed to Portland next, where Claxton made his NBA debut in November 2019. After facing the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, they’ll be in Utah on Wednesday to face the Jazz.
While the Nets added Blake Griffin to the mix on Sunday night and Kevin Durant’s return grows closer, Claxton played a career-high 26 minutes in the 113-106 win over Washington while closing out the game in the fourth quarter for the second time in three games.
The second-year forward made his season debut just a month ago after playing 15 games as a rookie.
“All of this happened pretty fast,” said Claxton. “I feel like my first game I was playing was yesterday here at Barclays. And everything is just coming along pretty fast, but I’m just staying grounded, staying level-headed and whenever -- closing out games is pretty fun, but I’ve just gotta be ready for whatever opportunity whenever my name is called. That’s my job, and I’ve just got to continue to get better and continue to grow.”
Claxton delivered twice in the final minutes after Washington cut the Brooklyn lead to a point with three minutes to go. His three-point play put the Nets up 106-102, and then with the Wizards back within a basket in the final minute, it was another dunk and three-point play off a Kyrie Irving feed to put the Nets up five.
Through 11 games, Claxton is averaging 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 18.1 minutes per game while shooting 64.2 percent.
“He’s comfortable. Comfortable and confident,” said James Harden. “When a young guy doesn’t worry about anything but playing hard and doing his job to the best of his ability, good things happen for him. That’s what we’re seeing out of Nic. He listens and he goes out there and watches film and he does his job every single night. Obviously, we all make mistakes, we all mess up, but his intentions are great and more than not, good things are going to happen for you. As far as communication, I try to help him get in his right spots and teach him different things that can make the game a lot easier for him. I think any young guy, the game is so fast for them. Once they settle in and get more comfortable, the pace slows down and they will be more effective.”
Brooklyn’s defensive rating with Claxton on the court over his 199 minutes so far is 99.0. At 6-foot-11, Claxton relishes the opportunity to switch across positions and has no problem matching up with a guard on the perimeter.
“Deep down I’m smiling because if teams want to continue to do that, they might get a couple of buckets, but I’m gonna get more stops than them, definitely,” said Claxton. “So deep down I’m just smiling, I’m ready. I know the scouting report. I’m a huge basketball fan, so I’ve been watching all of these guys since I was young, so just me being out there, using my IQ, using my footwork, guarding without fouling, it’s fun, honestly. I wasn’t able to switch one through last year at all, honestly, so me being able to switch, I think that’s huge. That’s huge for us, especially if teams want to go at me directly. That’s just taking the flow away from other players, and like I said, I might get scored on a couple times, but for the most part I’m good.”
IRVING OUT FOR ROAD TRIP
The Nets announced on Monday that Kyrie Irving would not accompany the team on its three-game road trip to Portland, Utah and Denver due to a family matter. In addition, Landry Shamet, left Sunday’s game against the Wizards due to an ankle sprain, is also not traveling with the team.
James Harden already leads the league in minutes per game, averaging 37.9, and while Irving is Brooklyn’s other primary ball-handler, Shamet has also been an option as a lead guard with the second unit when needed. Harden has also been listed as questionable with neck soreness. He took a hit on a loose ball just before halftime on Sunday.
“I’m concerned about the minutes,” said Steve Nash about Harden’s workload after Sunday’s game against Washington. “I’m not sure what the answer is, though. He controls the game. He hasn’t shot the ball well since the break, but he made three 3s tonight. He gets to the line. He makes assists, rebounds, steals. He’s great around the basket. He had another great performance even if it wasn’t necessarily a typical Harden game. So it’s hard to take him off the floor because he makes his teammates better.”
ANOTHER WEST TEST
The Nets are 7-1 against Western Conference teams currently in playoff position, and they’ll be facing two more of them on a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday. While they’ve previously beaten first-place Utah (30-11), this is their first meeting of the season with Portland (25-17), which went into Monday night’s game tied for fifth place with Denver.
“I think every game is a test for us,” said James Harden. “We’re not allowed to take anyone lightly. We don’t have the luxury of that. We saw that last game. Every night we prepare for our opponent to the best of our ability, and the coaches do a really good job of that to prepare us and we go out there and try to execute. Our next opponent is Portland, who have been playing pretty well. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time, and that’s the most important thing. We can’t look further down the line. I think if we have that mindset – one game at a time, one possession at a time – good things happen for us.”
The Nets don’t typically capitalize on turnovers, ranking 29th in opponent turnover percentage (12.5), 26th in steals (6.6), and 19th in points off turnovers (16.1), but they had a big night on Sunday, turning 19 Washington turnovers into 27 points, a key factor in a seven-point win.
“I thought we did a good job hawking the ball at times, forcing some turnovers, getting some steals, but also there’s randomness to the NBA,” said Steve Nash. “It’s kind of like the Orlando game. They came out and made everything, contested or not. Tonight they also were a little careless with it. I don’t want to discredit our guys’ effort, because I thought they really got their hands on a lot of balls, but sometimes the other team helps you out in that department a little bit as well.”
NETS SIGN ALIZE JOHNSON
The Nets have added Alize Johnson on a 10-day contract. Johnson, a second-round pick of Indiana in 2018, played 31 games for the Pacers over two seasons. A 6-foot-7, 212-pound forward, Johnson averaged 16.6 points and 13.3 rebounds over 15 games, all starts, with Raptors 905 during this year’s shortened G League season.
ABOUT THE BLAZERS
The Trail Blazers are 25-17, tied for fifth in the Western Conference, and they’ve won seven of their last 10 games. With the sixth highest offensive efficiency in the league — 115.8 points per 100 possessions — the Blazers get 42.2 percent of their points — the second highest figure in the NBA — from 3-point range while ranking second in 3-pointers attempted (42.5) and made (16.1) per game and ninth in 3-point percentage. Overall, they’re 26th in field goal percentage (44.5) as they shoot 50.3 percent on 2-point attempts, 28th in the league. Portland is also eighth in offensive rebounds per game (10.5) and fourth in second-chance points (14.4). The Blazers are last in assists (19.9), but they don’t turn it over much either — they’ve got the second lowest turnover rate in the league at 11.5 per game. Portland is 29th in defensive rating (116.7) and 28th in opponent field goal percentage allowed (48.0). Damian Lillard is second in the NBA averaging 30.3 points per game, plus a team-leading 7.6 assists per game. Backcourt partner CJ McCollum has been back for four games after missing two months with a broken foot. McCollum had 32 points against Dallas on Friday. Center Jusuf Nurkic remains out after wrist surgery. In his absence, Enes Kanter is averaging 11.9 points and 11.5 rebounds.