The Brooklyn Nets (1-2) return home after an embarrassing trip to Orlando to play another bad team on Tuesday night, the Utah Jazz (0-3). Despite beating the Miami Heat, the Nets have lost two very winnable road games already this year and have not played anywhere close to fans’ expectations. Meanwhile, the Jazz, who are in for a rebuilding year, haven’t won yet, but 2 of those losses were against very good western conference teams in Oklahoma City and Houston, and all 3 of their games have come down to the fourth quarter.
The Jazz have a very young team and could be good in the future, especially if they get a high lottery pick next year, but right now this team is too inexperienced to contend for a western conference playoff spot. Utah’s backcourt is as shallow as any team in the league, with two castaway veterans, John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley at the point guard position. However, they do have a powerful front court with 2 could-have-been Nets with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The Nets have struggled against young forwards in the past and those players could cause problems again tonight.
Last season, the Nets won 49 games, mostly against bad teams, while struggling mightily against good teams. So far this year, the opposite has been true. If the Nets want to be one of the best teams in the east, they need to play better against teams like Utah. They can’t only show up for the Miami’s and the Chicago’s. They also need to play well against non-playoff teams.
Injuries: The Nets are completely healthy and should have no more minutes restrictions or resting tonight. The Jazz have plenty of concerns, starting with their rookie Trey Burke, who will be missing the first few weeks of the season. Marvin Williams, Andris Biedrins, Jeremy Evans, and Brandon Rush are all also out with various leg injuries.
Deron Williams vs. John Lucas III. Advantage: Williams
Deron Williams is due for a breakout game and I think he gets it tonight against his former team, who he has never beaten with the Nets. The Jazz backcourt is very shallow and is very much lacking in star power. Lucas and Tinsley are both undersized and pretty old and there’s no reason why Deron Williams shouldn’t score in double figures tonight.
Joe Johnson vs. Gordon Hayward. Advantage: Johnson
Hayward has probably been Utah’s best player to this point, averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, but there’s no question that Joe Johnson is more talented and a better scorer. I am worried about Johnson not knowing his role on the Nets, much like Gerald Wallace last season. I hope he doesn’t eventually become frustrated due to a lack of touches.
Paul Pierce vs. Richard Jefferson. Advantage: Pierce
I was as big a Richard Jefferson fan as anybody when he was with the Nets, but at this point, I’m pretty surprised he’s in the NBA, let alone starting for a team. He has played way too many minutes early on in the season, capped off with 27 minutes in Utah’s last game, although he did somehow score 18 points in that loss. Remember, Jefferson was barely ever able to get off the bench last year with the Warriors and when he did, he looked horrible. Pierce has been the Nets’ MVP to this point in the season and is the only player to have played well in every game.
Kevin Garnett vs. Derrick Favors. Advantage: Garnett
The Jazz are hoping for a breakout year from Favors this season and so far, so good. He is averaging a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. However, it is time for Kevin Garnett to step up for the Nets. He has shot uncharacteristically poorly from the field through the first 3 games and has yet to break double digits. He has also been outplayed by younger big guys in both the Cleveland and Orlando games. I expect him to play better tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Enes Kanter. Advantage: Lopez
Like Favors, Kanter has been good for Utah so far, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds. Going against Brook Lopez, I expect Kanter to have another good game on the glass. Lopez’s problem early on this year is his reluctance to get into the paint and he has been settling for outside jumpers. Thankfully, he has one of the best touches on outside jumpers in the NBA, but I would still prefer to see him get to the rim more frequently. Kanter is not a great defender, averaging under a block per game, so hopefully Lopez will attack more.
Bold prediction: Deron Williams will score 20 points. This may have not been bold last year, but he has yet to crack double figures this year. I think he fixes some problems tonight against a young defense.
Score prediction: Nets 97, Jazz 92. Even though Utah is 0-3, they have been close in every game and I expect a similar close game tonight. But enough is enough for the Nets. They need to beat these bad teams, especially at home.