The hottest team in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets (18-22), face their next challenger Friday night in Brooklyn when the Dallas Mavericks (25-19) come to town. Even though Dallas has the better record of the two teams by 5 games, the Nets sit in 7th place in the east while Dallas is in 8th place in the west. The Mavs aren’t playing their best basketball right now and have lost 3 of their past 5 games, including a loss in Toronto on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Nets have won 8 of their past 9 including 3 blowout wins in a row.
This will be the third western conference playoff team the Nets face during this recent hot streak. They have already defeated OKC and Golden State this month. This will probably be a close and challenging game like those two and both teams are very experienced. A few plays at the end of the game will probably decide it.
These two teams have plenty of connections between each other. Vince Carter is one of the greatest Nets ever and there have been a few rumors that the Nets may try to trade for him. He is also very good friends and former teammates with Jason Kidd. Speaking of Kidd, he played on the Mavericks for a handful of years at both the beginning and ending of his career and won his only championship with the Mavs. He is close with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban. On top of that, the Nets traded Kidd for who they thought would be their franchise point guard in Devin Harris. Although Harris made an all-star team in New Jersey, he didn’t stick around for the Brooklyn move and after a few other stops, he is now back in Dallas where his career started. And last of all, we will get to see two of the greatest power forwards in NBA history face off tonight with Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.
Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki was given the night off on Wednesday in Toronto but he is expected to play tonight. He is not injured. Devin Harris is also back for Dallas after missing the first two months of the season. The only player out for Dallas is third or fourth string point guard Gal Mekel. The Nets are also healthy.
Shaun Livingston vs. Jose Calderon. Advantage: Livingston
The Nets should be familiar with long time Toronto Raptor, Jose Calderon. He is one of the smartest point guards in the NBA and rarely makes bad decisions. This year, his scoring and shooting numbers are about where they’ve been, but for some reason, his assists are way down under 5. The Mavs also have rookie Shane Larkin and former Net Devin Harris as backup point guards. Shaun Livingston has been vital to the Nets’ success this season. When he plays well, the team plays well, and when he struggles, the team struggles. He has been great lately, including in the second half against Orlando on Tuesday.
Alan Anderson/Deron Williams vs. Monta Ellis. Advantage: Ellis
Alan Anderson will still be starting for the Nets probably until they lose a game, but there’s no doubt Deron Williams will be in the game late if it’s close. He has had three days now to recover from playing in the back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday and he should be close to 100%. Monta Ellis has been having a surprisingly good season with Dallas. Despite being very undersized as a shooting guard, he has put up very good numbers: 20 ppg and 6 apg while shooting 46% from the field, well about his Milwaukee averages. Alan Anderson has been the Nets’ lockdown defender in January and I expect him to be guarding Ellis.
Joe Johnson vs. Shawn Marion. Advantage: Johnson
For once, Joe Johnson may not have a size advantage tonight, though he should have a major quickness advantage. Marion’s best days are behind him when he averaged 22 and 12 for Phoenix, but he is still a pretty good defender and rebounder, and he can post up smaller guys. I expect Joe Johnson to look for his shot more tonight rather than try to post up the bigger and stronger Marion. Expect him to look for plenty of corner 3′s and if he’s hitting his shots, watch out. The Mavs also have Nets fan-favorite Vince Carter as a backup small forward.
Paul Pierce vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Advantage: Nowitzki
Dirk is having a resurgent year this year and has looked as potent as ever on offense. He got the night off in Dallas’s loss on Wednesday so he should look fresh for this game. He should be very familiar with Paul Pierce’s game as they have both been in the league for a very long time and have had plenty of scoring battles with each other. It will be interesting to see how long Jason Kidd sticks with the small lineup tonight, because Dallas has a very big front court. However, Pierce is a crafty defender and should be able to contain Dirk as well as anyone on the roster.
Kevin Garnett vs. Samuel Dalembert. Advantage: Garnett
Dalembert is averaging just 6 points and 6 rebounds this year and the center position is definitely a weakness on this team. Because of the lack of a scoring threat, I expect KG to help prevent slashing guards as well as Shawn Marion from getting to the rim. I think he will have a very good defensive game.
Bold prediction: Joe Johnson hits at least five 3-pointers. I don’t think Dallas has a guy on their roster who can prevent Johnson from getting open in the corner and hitting 3′s.
Score prediction: Mavericks 98, Nets 89. I’m not basing this on much, but I just don’t have a very good feeling about this game. The Nets never seem to beat Dallas, and even though the Mavericks aren’t playing very well right now, I think the Nets are just due for a loss. They can’t keep this streak up forever, right?