Kenyon Martin and Tim Duncan in the 2003 Finals

Brooklyn Nets vs. San Antonio Spurs Preview: Nets Face Toughest Road Test Yet

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The Brooklyn Nets (16-14) will take the P.J. Carlesimo show on the road for the first time when they visit Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs (24-8) tonight. Since firing Avery Johnson on Thursday, the Nets have won two mediocre home games against the Bobcats and Cavaliers over the weekend to build a modest 2-game winning streak. The Spurs, meanwhile, have put together a 5-game winning streak after beating Dallas on the road last night. They have scored at least 99 points in all of those games and they have an excellent home record at 12-2.

Even though the Nets have won their last two games, neither win was impressive. In Friday’s win over the Bobcats, the team clearly played well enough to win, but did not have a killer instinct to put away a very bad team in the fourth quarter. Although Charlotte never really got back into the game, they should have won by more than 20 points. Saturday’s win over Cleveland was much worse. They were playing another very bad team without their star center Anderson Varejao and almost blew a double-digit second half lead in the final seconds. Kyrie Irving missed a 3 that would have tied the game at the buzzer.

San Antonio, meanwhile, has been playing their best basketball of the season. On this 5-game winning streak, they have 3 wins of more than 20 points and they have not lost a home game since November 19th, a streak of 8 games. In those 8 wins, 5 of the wins have been by double-digits.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did not agree with Mikhail Prokhorov about firing his former player and assistant Avery Johnson. Pop said that the Nets should have shown Avery more patience and he said that Avery’s track record should be enough to keep the job until the end of the season. Avery won 67 games with the Dallas Mavericks and also took that team to its first NBA finals. However, P.J. Carlesimo is also a former Popovich assistant and won three championships with the franchise. Pop is probably happy that P.J. is getting another chance to coach.

History is not on the Nets’ side tonight. Since 2003, the Nets have only beaten the Spurs once and that was at home. They haven’t won in San Antonio since 2002. All time against San Antonio, the Nets are 19-60, good for a .241 winning percentage. Since eastern conference teams and western conference teams began playing each other twice a season in 1980, the Nets have only swept the season series from the Spurs twice. They also lost to San Antonio 4 games to 2 in the 2003 finals. So, yeah, the Nets probably won’t win this game.

Injuries: There has not yet been word on whether Kris Humphries has recovered from his abdominal strain. My guess is that he won’t play and he will miss his fourth straight game. San Antonio is relatively injury free. Their only minor injury is Gary Neal, who is day-to-day.

Key matchups:

Deron Williams vs. Tony Parker. Advantage: Parker

Tony Parker is refusing to age and is averaging the second highest point and assist totals of his career this season: 19 ppg and 7 apg. He is shooting 51% from the field, 40% from 3, and 83% from the line, incredible numbers for a point guard. With the Spurs playing as well as they are, he needs to be an MVP candidate. As we all know, Deron Williams has not been having a great season. He has been a little better in the last two games since Avery Johnson has gotten fired, but those were against the Bobcats and Cavaliers. This will be his first real challenge.

Joe Johnson vs. Danny Green/Manu Ginobili. Advantage: Green/Ginobili

Danny Green is a nice player for San Antonio. He can shoot 3’s and he is a pretty good defender. The Nets cannot leave him wide open or he will burn them. As Manu Ginobili has always done, he is coming off the bench this year and is averaging 12 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Those two players should split the time at the shooting guard position and will probably outplay Joe Johnson, who has not lived up to expectations this year. I expect JJ to become invisible in the second half tonight.

Keith Bogans vs. Kawhi Leonard. Advantage: Leonard

Leonard had suffered an injury earlier in the season but recently returned to the lineup. He is averaging 10 ppg and 5 rpg in 13 games. I expect P.J. to keep Bogans in the starting lineup tonight. He will play most of his minutes in the first half and hopefully hit his open 3’s. He is a former Spur.

Gerald Wallace vs. Tim Duncan. Advantage: Duncan

This will be a very tough mathchup for Wallace, who is much shorter than Duncan. Therefore, Reggie Evans may be placed in the starting lineup tonight, we’ll see. Duncan is having his best year since 2009-10, averaging 18 ppg, 10 rpg, and 2.5 bpg at age 36. He is having a pretty incredible season. The Nets may move Lopez onto him but I don’t think Brook will be able to stop him.

Brook Lopez vs. Tiago Splitter. Advantage: Lopez

The Spurs’ centers are not great defenders, which is good for Lopez. The problem is that they still have Duncan, who will probably help if needed. Brook has been great recently, averaging 28 ppg and 11 rpg in his last 3 games. However, the Spurs are a much more difficult and smarter opponent than teams the Nets have played recently. I don’t expect Lopez to play as well tonight as he has in the past few games. Splitter has moved into a starting role in San Antonio this year. He is averaging 9 ppg and 5 rpg and he will be splitting time with Boris Diaw.

Prediction: Spurs 123, Nets 99. 

The Spurs have one of the best offenses in the NBA and they punish teams that make mistakes defensively. This game will be played at their pace and they will dismantle the Nets’ defense. The Nets may stay in the game because of their offense in the first half, but the Spurs know how to put teams away and this game will not be close in the fourth quarter. Expect the Spurs to have an easy, blowout win.

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