Today, the Brooklyn Nets will host the Portland Trail Blazers at Barclays Center at 3 PM. This is the second game of a 3-game homestand for the Nets (7-4), while it is the first game of a long eastern conference road trip for Portland (6-6).
Brooklyn is coming off of an impressive win over the Clippers on Friday and has won 6 of its last 8 games. Portland defeated Minnesota at home on Friday night and has won 4 of 5. Both teams are playing pretty well right now.
The Blazers are led by rookie sensation Damian Lillard, who they acquired from Brooklyn in the Gerald Wallace trade. At this point, I think both teams are happy with the trade. If the Nets had kept the pick, they would not have used it to select Lillard because they already have a star point guard in Deron Williams. They probably would have picked a big man, and none of the big guys this year have looked especially good. The Nets are happy that they have Gerald Wallace because he has been the key to their defense and his hustle is contagious. Portland is obviously happy with the trade because they probably would have lost Wallace to free agency had they kept him, and now they have the cornerstone of their franchise in Lillard.
Let’s look a little bit at Portland. They have been playing better recently, but their defense is still among the worst in the league. They have a lot of young players who can score, but very few who can defend. LaMarcus Aldridge is their best established player. He made the all-star team last season and he is a complete player. It will be interesting to see how Avery Johnson tries to contain him.
For the Nets, Brook Lopez will be the key again today. He had a great game on Friday and will look to keep on rolling today. He has a good matchup against J.J. Hickson that he should be able to take advantage of.
Injuries: For the Nets, Toko Shengelia will not be active because of a hurt finger while practicing on Friday. That should not matter because he probably wouldn’t play anyway unless the game was a blowout. The Trail Blazers don’t have any significant injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Damian Lillard. Advantage: Williams
This should be another very fun point guard matchup between the Nets’ current star point guard and a player who could have been a Nets star point guard. Lillard has probably been the rookie of the year in the NBA so far, averaging 20 ppg and 6 apg. He is the leader of the team already and is not afraid to take big shots in crunch time. This guy looks like he is well on his way to being a superstar in this league. However, Williams is already a superstar, although he hasn’t been playing like one early on in the season. Lillard’s defense has not been great this year and I expect Williams to have a breakout, 25-point game.
Joe Johnson vs. Wesley Matthews. Advantage: Johnson
Wesley Matthews is having a very nice season for Portland, averaging over 17 ppg. He is shooting well, especially from 3 at nearly 44%, and is also averaging 2 steals per game. However, Joe Johnson may have gotten out of his shooting slump in his last game against the Clippers. We will see if he can continue that in this game today.
Gerald Wallace vs. Nicolas Batum. Advantage: Batum
Nicolas Batum is well on his way to a breakout season, averaging almost 20 ppg after never averaging more than 14 in his career. He is also averaging nearly 6 rebounds and 3 assists. It will be Gerald Wallace’s job to contain him today, and this may be a struggle. Wallace will need to use his physicality to make Batum uncomfortable.
Kris Humphries vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. Advantage: Aldridge
Aldridge is the type of player that kills the Nets. He is a long, athletic power forward that grabs rebounds and can score with anybody. He is arguably the most complete power forward in the NBA. Kris Humphries, especially after his last game, will really struggle today.
Brook Lopez vs. J.J. Hickson. Advantage: Lopez
Hickson is averaging a double-double this year for the first time in his career. He has been playing well this year and Lopez will probably struggle to box him out. However, on offense, Lopez will feast today as he did against the Clippers, probably scoring 25+ points again. Hickson is not scary at all on defense.
You may read this and think, “wow, the Blazers must be really good, all their starters are playing well this year”. This is true. However, they have arguably the worst bench in the NBA. The bench as a whole will be hard-pressed to score over 10 points. In the second quarter, when the second units are in, expect the Nets to take a big advantage, led by Blatche, C.J. Watson, and Reggie Evans.
Prediction: Nets 90, Blazers 83.
The Nets have been playing much better defense recently, and they will control the pace of this game. The Blazers have a very young team and the Nets should be in control of this game. I would be surprised to see this team lose here after playing so well against L.A. on Friday.