After getting embarrassed in Washington on Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets (29-21)return home Sunday for a nationally televised showdown with the NBA’s best team, the San Antonio Spurs (39-12). Although the Spurs surprisingly lost their last game in Detroit, they had won their previous 11 games and they hold the best record in the NBA. The Spurs have been one of the best teams in the very tough western conference all season long and it will take a humungous effort for the slumping Nets to win this game.
The last time Brooklyn played against San Antonio was on New Year’s Eve in the third game of the P.J. Carlesimo era. It was also probably the worst game of that era. Brooklyn lost by 31 points, and it wasn’t even that close. The Nets scored an NBA season low 5 points in the third quarter and never had a chance to win the game. They are hoping for a different outcome tonight.
Although the Spurs are not very healthy right now (see below), they have still played very well recently. They are averaging the 4th most points per game of any team in the NBA and they are averaging more points than any eastern conference team. They also have the second best point differential in the league at +8.1, behind only Oklahoma City.
Injuries: 2 of San Antonio’s Big 3 will probably not play in this game. Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have had minor injuries recently and are considered day-to-day. Gregg Popovich has been very conservative concerning his older players returning from injuries, so I will be surprised to see either one of them play tonight. Brooklyn does not have any significant injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Tony Parker. Advantage: Parker
Tony Parker is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and he may in fact be the best point guard in the entire NBA. He knows exactly when he should be looking for his shot and when he should be trying to get teammates involved. Since Ginobili and Duncan have both been out the past two games, Parker has gotten 31 points and 8 assists in each of those games. If this game is close and Parker needs to play in the fourth quarter, expect him to score over 30 again. Even at 30 years old, Parker is still too quick for Deron Williams, who I expect to look very frustrated for most of tonight’s game.
Joe Johnson vs. Danny Green. Advantage: Johnson
Green is a great system player in San Antonio’s offense. Most of his shots will be 3’s, where he is shooting nearly 43% for the year. Green helps spread the floor for San Antonio and opens up more room in the paint because somebody always needs to keep close to him to prevent him from getting open shots. Joe Johnson has returned to looking invisible on the court recently. Green is not an especially good defender and Johnson is much stronger than him. Hopefully he will take advantage of that.
Gerald Wallace vs. Kawhi Leonard. Advantage: Leonard
Leonard is another one of San Antonio’s very underrated players. Although he does not put up excellent scoring numbers, he is a very important player in the Spurs’ system. He is shooting excellent percentages: 49% from the field, 40% from 3, and 87% from the foul line. Although he is a very good shooter, he can also drive and finish around the rim for layups. He is also one of the better defenders in the league.
Reggie Evans vs. Boris Diaw. Advantage: Diaw
When Boris Diaw left Charlotte last season, he was shooting 41% from the field and 27% from 3. This season he is shooting 56% from the field and 41% from 3. That is the difference that Popovich’s system creates. Diaw is far from a great player, but he can still be effective by only taking smart shots. Although Diaw is averaging under 6 ppg, he will probably score more tonight because he will be starting in place of Tim Duncan. Reggie Evans has been more aggressive on offense recently than he has maybe ever been. Unfortunately, he usually gets blocked when he tries to put up shots. However, San Antonio is a pretty small team which does not block many shots, especially without Tim Duncan. I can see Reggie getting a double-double tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Tiago Splitter. Advantage: Lopez
Splitter has been a little bit of a disappointment since arriving in San Antonio. He has yet to emerge as a player who can lead this team after Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili move on. Although this is only his 3rd NBA season, Splitter is already 28 years old and still has a lot of work to do. Lopez had one of his worst games in a long time in Washington on Friday. I expect him to bounce back tonight against a pretty weak Spurs front line.
Prediction: Spurs 99, Nets 93.
With all the injuries San Antonio is dealing with, it is hard to imagine that they will be able to blow out Brooklyn. Still, the Nets are a very cold team right now and their offense has looked horrible recently. This will be a pretty close game, but San Antonio will hold on to win in the end.