The Brooklyn Nets (21-15) will be back at home Sunday night to finally face another team with a winning record, the steaming hot Indiana Pacers (23-14). The Nets have won 5 games in a row and 7 of 8 since P.J. Carlesimo has taken over. However, they have only beaten one team with a record over .500 in that time. Meanwhile, Indiana has won 4 straight, 6 of 7, and 10 of their past 12 games and is playing as well as any team in the NBA right now. This will be their third game in 4 nights and their second of a back-to-back after beating Charlotte last night at home.
This will be an important test for Brooklyn. They have crushed bad teams this year and are a perfect 14-0 against teams with records under .500. However, against good teams with records of .500 or better, Brooklyn is only 7-15. This will be the first good team the Nets have played in a while so we will see how much they really have improved during this hot streak.
Indiana is led by their league-leading defense. The Pacers are only giving up 89 ppg this season, best in the NBA. They haven’t allowed a team to score 100 against them in their past 7 games and have only allowed a team to score more than 83 in that time twice. The Nets have had the best offense this calendar year and have averaged over 105 ppg in their past 5 games. It will be hard for them to do that tonight.
This will also be an important game in the standings. After losses by Chicago and Atlanta last night, Brooklyn is in 4th place, 1 1/2 games behind Indiana for third and 3 1/2 games behind league-leading Miami. Even though we are still in the first half of the season, it would be nice for Brooklyn to pick up a win in this game.
Injuries: The Nets have been relatively injury-free this year (with the exception of Brook Lopez), but now suddenly have lots of injuries. Gerald Wallace, after landing on his ribs in a collision on Friday, will not play. Deron Williams is questionable after a leg injury on Friday, but I have a feeling he will also sit out. Jerry Stackhouse (ankle), Mirza teletovic (flu), and Kris Humphries (leg) are all probable. For Indiana, the only real injury they have is Danny Granger, who has not played yet this season but is close to returning. Paul George missed last night’s win with the flu and is questionable for tonight’s game. I have a feeling he will play, but I could definitely be wrong.
Deron Williams/C.J. Watson vs. George Hill. Advantage: Hill
George Hill is having a career year this season averaging career highs with 15 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. He is also a good defender and free throw shooter. Even if Deron Williams plays, he will not be nearly as quick as he usually is. He needs power from his legs to shoot and with a thigh contusion that power will be hard to get. He will also be a bit slower on defense. C.J. Watson has only started once this season (the last game that Avery Johnson was coach) and Watson played pretty terribly. If Deron cannot go, expect a good amount of playing time for Tyshawn Taylor. D.J. Augustin, a former starter in Charlotte, should also get some time for Indiana.
Joe Johnson vs. Lance Stephenson. Advantage: Johnson
On Friday night, the Nets welcomed Brooklyn-born Sebastian Telfair to Barclays for the first time and now they will host another Brooklynite, Lance Stephenson. Stephenson has been a starter this year for Indiana and is averaging 8 ppg, 3 rpg, and 3 apg in 27 minutes. He is very athletic and is a good defender and he might cause a few problems for Joe Johnson. JJ has played pretty well in this recent winning streak including a very good game on Friday.
Keith Bogans vs. Paul George/Dominic McGuire. Advantage: George/McGuire
This is a very uncertain position tonight for both teams. Expect Bogans to start tonight in place of Wallace. Bogans has started lots of games this year for Brooklyn and will make his 3-point shots on offense. If Paul George comes back at full strength from the flu, he will cause the Nets fits in this game. He is a guy who should be an all-star this year but isn’t very well known because he plays in Indiana. The third-year player is averaging 17 ppg, 8 rpg, and 4 apg. He has also caused the Nets fits in the past. He scored 20 or more points against them 3 times last year even though his season scoring average was only 12 ppg. He is a good 3-point shooter and also an excellent dunker. He participated in the dunk contest last season. If George cannot go, Dominic McGuire will likely start. However, expect former Net Gerald Green to get lots of minutes in his first game in Brooklyn. He is probably not very happy that the Nets didn’t want to re-sign him and he may have a big game. Expect at least one highlight reel dunk for Green tonight.
Reggie Evans vs. David West. Advantage: West
After a little bit of an off year last season, West is back averaging 16 ppg and 8 rpg this season. He is one of the leaders of this team and has been a Net-killer in the past dating back to his New Orleans days. His main strength is his good long-range shooting ability and foul shooting ability. Reggie and Brook Lopez will need to come out of the paint to contest his shots. Evans has recorded 38 rebounds in his last 2 games. There will probably be lots of missed shots in this game too so expect another 15+ rebound game from Reggie.
Brook Lopez vs. Roy Hibbert. Advantage: Lopez
This will be a battle between the two max-contract centers from the offseason. However, only one of them has played up to his contract this year. Brook Lopez has been earning his money and has looked like arguably the best offensive center in the entire NBA. Hibbert, on the other hand, has been a major disappointment for the Pacers. He is averaging under 10 ppg and only 8 rpg. He is shooting career lows from the foul line (65%) and the field (under 40%). That number is extremely concerning. Hibbert is one of the tallest players in the NBA and is shooting under 40%?!? He should be shooting well over 50% because almost all of his shots should be coming in the paint. Indiana definitely regrets signing Hibbert to that contract.
Prediction: Pacers 84, Nets 81.
This will definitely be an ugly, close eastern conference game. I will be shocked to see either team score 100 points and surprised even if a team reaches 90. Both teams play at slow paces and Indiana has one of the best defenses in the NBA. The Nets have played well recently, but for the most part their wins have been against bad teams. I think Indiana is playing better right now and has beaten both the Knicks and Heat in the past week. The Nets have too many injuries right now and Indiana will win this game.