When the schedules are released prior to every NBA season, there are always a handful of games circled for each team. The Brooklyn Nets’ matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers tonight is a game that has been highly anticipated since the schedule was released. Fans, players, and reporters around the league have been waiting for tonight’s game, and will be tuned in.
Both the Nets and defending champion Lakers came into the season as the favorites in their respective conferences. Many expect this to be a preview of the NBA Finals. Since the acquisition of James Harden, the Nets’ expectations have only grown higher. With this increased expectation also comes a heightened anticipation for a matchup with LeBron James and the league’s best team.
The Brooklyn Nets enter the game at 18-12, currently sitting second in the eastern conference. This will be game 4 of a 5 game west coast swing for the Nets. They will ride a four game win streak into tonight’s contest. Brooklyn will be hoping to carry over into tonight the momentum of an incredible comeback victory against the Phoenix Suns. Harden, playing without both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, is coming off of his best performance as a Net. He finished with 38 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists. His incredible night and clutch dagger three down the stretch capped off a 24 point comeback for Brooklyn. Tonight, Harden will again be without Durant, who will miss his third game in a row to a hamstring injury. Irving, however, is listed as probable tonight, and should be back on the floor in this important game for his team. The Nets will also continue to be without Nicholas Claxton, Iman Shumpert, and Spencer Dinwiddie tonight.
Los Angeles currently holds the second best record in the NBA at 22-7. Like Brooklyn, they are second in their conference, trailing only the blistering hot Utah Jazz. The Lakers enter tonight’s contest having won 8 of their last 9 games. Their last game was 112-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. The Lakers will be adjusting to life without their star big man Anthony Davis, who will miss extended time due to a calf strain. Thursday will mark just their second game since Davis’ injury.
BROOKLYN’S KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Defensive effort- The obvious. While thriving on offense, the Brooklyn Nets’ defensive struggles have been well documented. They rank 26th in the league in defensive rating and 28th in points allowed per game. They have, however, shown flashes of locking in on defense. Against the league’s best, the Nets come to play. The defensive effort is much better, and this has translated to a 10-1 record against teams over .500. Brooklyn will need to play high effort defense in order to take down LeBron and the Lakers. Can Harden and Kyrie step up to the challenge and play defense at a high level in key moments of the game?
- Bench Production- Although James Harden’s performance was the main catalyst in Brooklyn’s incredible win, the performance of the team’s role players was imperative as well. Tyler Johnson had 17 points on 5 threes while providing solid defense in his first start of the season. Jeff Green put up 18 points and 8 rebounds, with 11 points coming in the fourth quarter. Landry Shamet added 13 points and had a huge stop late in the game on Devin Booker. When Steve Nash can get this elevated production out of the second unit, in addition to the high level production from his stars, this team is incredibly difficult to beat.
- Limit Turnovers- The Nets have a turnover issue as they are averaging 15 turnovers per game. The Lakers are the best defensive team in the NBA, and will look to take advantage of this weakness. If the Nets don’t take care of the ball, this Lakers team will exploit this deficiency. By taking care of the basketball, Brooklyn can limit the Lakers’ fast-break chances, and create more looks for themselves on offense. It is not a coincidence that in their stellar 4th quarter comeback against Phoenix, the Nets didn’t turn the ball over once.
This is set up to be an incredible game. Unfortunately, we won’t see either team at full strength, so this will not necessarily be a proper long term evaluation . Even so, there is still more than enough star power and intrigue to make this game a must watch. In the end, I am going to pick the Brooklyn Nets to stay hot, and come out on top. They’ve beaten the Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, Sixers, Celtics, and Nuggets already. This team seems to elevate its level of play against great competition, and they’ve shown they can beat anyone. James Harden and Steve Nash have this group playing with incredible confidence. I expect them to come out with a high level of intensity and effort, and put together a strong 48 minutes of basketball. While LeBron will undoubtedly make sure his Lakers keep this game tight, they will fall short as they adjust to the absence of Davis.
Regardless of the outcome, this should be one of the better games of the season. And who knows… we might just be watching our first preview of this year’s NBA Finals.