The Brooklyn Nets are heading West. The opponent? The 33-37 Portland Trail Blazers, in what seems to be a meaningless regular season game. For the Blazers, a win keeps you firmly in the race for the eight seed, but with three teams currently ahead of them, it’s tough to envision them snatching that elusive eight seed. A loss for Portland, and you’re back to positioning yourself in the draft. For Brooklyn, a win doesn’t enhance your chances of claiming the Atlantic Division title, as New York is currently on a five-game winning streak. If Brooklyn loses, it’s certainly a bad loss, but not one that cripples the team’s playoffs aspirations.
Let’s look at some of the key advanced numbers for each team
- Pace Differential: Brooklyn: 15th | Portland: 20th
- Effective Field Goal Percentage Differential: Brooklyn 22nd | Portland: 16th
- Free Throw Rate: Brooklyn: 3rd | Portland: 12th
- Turnover Rate: Brooklyn: 7th | Portland: 5th
- Offensive Rebound Rate: Brooklyn: 3rd | Portland: 18th
The biggest X-factor for the Brooklyn Nets have to be the bench. While Brooklyn’s bench isn’t anything to brag about, Portland’s bench is abysmal. If Brooklyn can get a large offensive performance from Andray Blatche and Marshon Brooks, this game should result in victory. Along with Blatche and Brooks, I’m curious to see how Kris Humphries figures into this game as well. His rebounding could make a huge difference for Brooklyn against Portland’s second unit.
The Starting Matchups
Deron Williams vs Damian Lillard | Advantage: Williams
The Nets owned the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, before trading the pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace. That pick became Damian Lillard, who will most likely claim the Rookie Of The Year award for this season. This is an interesting opposition for Williams, as Lillard’s strength is attacking the basket. When Lillard doesn’t attack the basket, and you usually find him outside the arc, hoisting one of the six three-point attempts. Lillard will provide hell for Williams on the offensive end, but I lean toward Williams for two reasons. The first is his reason play. Over his last ten games, Williams is averaging 20.3 points, 8.4 assists, and 50% shooting. The second reason is simple: Lillard isn’t a good defensive player, meaning Williams should be able to give back whatever Lillard dishes out.
Wesley Matthews vs Joe Johnson | Advantage: Johnson
I love Wesley Matthews. I enjoyed his game in Utah, and with the league in the midst of a shooting guard flux, guys like Wesley Matthews hold a great deal of value in the league. All bias aside, Joe Johnson is the better player, and even while dealing with a strained quadriceps, Johnson should be able to take advantage of Matthews’ defensive shortcomings. Where Johnson could thrive in this game is as a distributor to Williams. While Johnson has struggled shooting over the past ten games (41% shooting), Johnson has made it a point to move the ball in a bogged down offense. Whether it’s to Williams or dropping into Brook Lopez, I fully expect Johnson to help keep the offense flowing.
Nicolas Batum vs Gerald Wallace | Advantage: Batum
This is a battle of two players who can impact the game in a bunch of ways. For Gerald Wallace, his ability to be physical in the interior allows Brooklyn to muck things up on the defensive end. For Nicolas Batum, he’s just a lanky human being, allowing him disrupt point guards, become an active threat in passing lanes, and bother players with his ability to block shots. While Wallace’s ability matters, he ultimately provides nothing on the offensive end, thanks to P.J. Carlesimo’s desire to stay big. Meanwhile, Batum is in the perfect offense for him, allowing him to space the floor with three-point shooting, and drive into the lane where Batum can finish, or kick it to an open shooter.
LaMarcus Aldridge vs Reggie Evans | Advantage: Aldridge
Easy win for Aldridge, but something must be pointed out here. I think the Nets will need to throw both Wallace and Lopez at Aldridge, rather than Evans. I say that because Evans (six foot eight) has no chance at defending Aldridge’s (six foot eleven) jumper, and Aldridge can post and finish over Evans with relative ease. I say Brooklyn throws Wallace on Aldridge on the outside (forcing Aldridge to shoot over him or put the ball on the deck, which would allow Brooklyn to double team him) and Lopez when he reaches the post to have a chance of slowing down one of the best power forwards in the league.
Brook Lopez vs J.J. Hickson | Advantage: Lopez
Here’s the thing: Brooklyn has to throw two guys at Aldridge to stop him. The Blazers probably have to do the same with Brook Lopez. Hickson will be able to contest Lopez a bit on the outside, but once Lopez gets into the paint, it’s an automatic two points. The bigger question is how will Lopez defend Hickson? While Hickson is a rather awful defender, his ability to shoot from mid-range is an issue. According to hoopdata.com, Hickson is shooting 46 percent on field goal attempts from 10 to 15 feet, and 49 percent from 16 to 23 feet. While Hickson doesn’t have 90 shot attempts from either location, Hickson isn’t afraid to set up from that area and let one fly. Along with the mid-range jumper, Hickson is also a solid rebounder, something that Lopez isn’t. While Lopez should be able to get his fair share of rebounds, it will be interesting to see if Hickson just battles Lopez for rebounds, and if he actually gets them.
Prediction: Nets 102, Blazers 89