The Brooklyn Nets (23-16) will conclude a home-and-home with the Atlanta Hawks (22-16) tonight at Barclays Center. The Nets were blown out in the first game in Atlanta on Wednesday, but had won 9 of their previous 10 games before that. The Hawks entered Wednesday’s game having lost 6 of their past 7, but they were the more rested team and they came out with something to prove after only scoring 58 points in their previous game in Chicago.
The Nets had lots of problems on Wednesday night. The biggest issue was preventing fast breaks from happening. Led by Jeff Teague and former Net Devin Harris, the Hawks ran all over the Nets. Expect the Nets to do a better job of getting back on defense tonight for two reasons. First of all, they will hopefully have Gerald Wallace back in the starting rotation tonight. He came off the bench on Wednesday. One of his strengths is never giving up on plays and he has a knack for chasing players down and blocking their shots on fast breaks, or if not blocking the shot, at least giving a hard foul. Another reason why the Nets will be better tonight is that they are rested. Wednesday’s game was their third in four nights and the team was gassed. Expect them to play with more energy tonight.
Another issue the Nets had was shot selection and passing out of double teams. Joe Johnson particularly struggled with this. He took a lot of bad shots in Wednesday’s game leading to many of Atlanta’s fast breaks. The Nets have surely worked on those types of situations in practice since Wednesday and they will be prepared for the Hawks’ defense tonight.
Injuries: For the Hawks, only Anthony Morrow will not play in this game. Josh Smith will be returning from his 1-game suspension. The Nets have no significant injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Jeff Teague. Advantage: Williams
Teague burned the Nets for a career high 28 points on Wednesday. If Deron wants to prevent that from happening again, he will need to be quicker on defense and get back to prevent fast breaks.
Joe Johnson vs. Devin Harris. Advantage: Johnson
Joe Johnson really struggled in his return to Atlanta on Wednesday. He only shot 4-15 from the field and took too many difficult shots. The Hawks were able to stop Joe by double-teaming him, which made him very uncomfortable. He will have a second chance against his former team tonight. Devin Harris played well in the first game, especially on the fast breaks.
Gerald Wallace vs. Kyle Korver. Advantage: Wallace
Gerald Wallace returned from his rib injury on Wednesday and came off the bench. He did not do very much, scoring only 4 points in 15 minutes. Expect him to start tonight in his second game back.
Reggie Evans vs. Josh Smith. Advantage: Smith
Josh Smith did not play in the first meeting between the two teams because of a 1-game suspension. He will be playing tonight. Smith has been an inconsistent player this year. Although he has very good stats, he makes a lot of head-scratching plays. He is only about a 50% free throw shooter this year and he has taken way too many 3’s. Reggie Evans usually does not guard people very far outside the paint, and that won’t be a problem tonight because Smith probably won’t make many of those shots.
Brook Lopez vs. Al Horford. Advantage: Lopez
Both these players played well on Wednesday and these two guys could be battling for a spot on the eastern conference all-star team. Lopez has played very well the whole season and he definitely deserves a spot on the team.
Prediction: Nets 101, Hawks 95.
I don’t think the Nets will get swept on this home-and-home. They were tired on Wednesday after playing their third game in four nights but they are now rested and ready to go. They know what they need to do differently. They need to prevent the Hawks’ guards from leading fast breaks and they need to be more effective in passing out of double teams. If they can do those things, they are the more talented team and they will win this game.