Brooklyn Nets face a tough road trip in the Week Ahead

On Sunday night, the Brooklyn Nets capped off another strong week with a victory. Brooklyn defeated the Washington Wizards by a score of 113-106. With the win, the Nets improved to 3-1 for the week and 29-14 on the year.  Their record is currently the third best in the NBA. Brooklyn continues to battle Philadelphia closely for the number one seed in the eastern conference. Entering the week, the Nets sit at second place in the conference, one game behind the Sixers. In order to catch Philadelphia and take over the top spot in the East, they will have to put together yet another strong week. That will be a challenging task, as they will face two strong western conference teams. In the week ahead, the Nets will face the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz. They will finish up the week with a matchup in Detroit against the Pistons.

The Nets will have an additional challenge this week with the absence of Kyrie Irving. On Monday morning, reports stated that Irving will miss Brooklyn’s upcoming three game road trip as he tends to family matters. His absence will be in addition to the extended absence of Kevin Durant, who may still be weeks away with his own injury. Brooklyn will need James Harden to carry the load this week as they miss 2/3 of their superstar trio. In games played without Durant and Irving, Harden is 2-2. Let’s take a look at the upcoming matchups Harden and the Nets will face, and what to look out for during the week ahead.

Tuesday, March 22nd- Brooklyn Nets @ Portland Trail Blazers

Brooklyn will begin their brief three game road trip with a trip to Portland to take on the Blazers. Portland enters the game at 25-17, which is good for 6th place in the loaded Western Conference. This game will be the first matchup of the season for the two teams. The last time the Nets and Blazers played was last season, in the final game of the regular season. Brooklyn, who was without all of their star players, put up a hard fought battle but ultimately lost. This time around will present a much different look for the Nets, who will be led by James Harden. The showdown of James Harden and Damian Lillard will be a battle of two MVP candidates. With injuries to both Joel Embiid and LeBron James, the two star guards are some of the top candidates to win the honor. When the two have faced off head to head, the results have been split evenly. Lillard’s teams have slightly edged Harden’s, winning 17 times to The Beard’s 16. Winning this game would undoubtedly prove helpful in the MVP case for either player. Beyond Lillard, the Blazers have high level players such as CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Robert Covington. While slowing down Dame is nearly impossible, limiting the impact of his surrounding cast will be imperative to a Brooklyn victory. In addition, players such as Joe Harris, Nicolas Claxton, and Blake Griffin will need to step up for Brooklyn in Irving’s absence. Taking down the Blazers in Portland will be a tough challenge for a depleted Nets team, but a challenge they are capable of overcoming nonetheless. Either way, this matchup is primed to be a close one.

Wednesday, March 23rd- Brooklyn Nets @ Utah Jazz

The creators of the league’s schedule were not kind to the Nets on this one. After a challenging road matchup against Portland, Brooklyn will have to travel to Utah for a game against the Jazz on the following night. Utah own’s an NBA best 30-11 record. After winning a baffling 20 out of 21 games earlier in the season, Utah has slowed down a bit as of late. In their last 10 games, the Jazz are just 5-5. Despite a somewhat cold stretch for the team, they are still one of the league’s best and thus extremely dangerous. Led by their all-star rim protector Rudy Gobert, the Jazz boast one of the league’s toughest defenses. In addition to their elite defense, Utah is incredible offensively and on the glass. With top 5 rankings in offense, defense, rebounding and 3 point shooting, they are one of the best all around teams in the league. Playing on the second night of a back to back is always a challenge for teams. Doing so while short-handed against such a physical team will only enhance that challenge. If the Nets come out flat in this game, the Jazz will take advantage. Brooklyn did crush Utah in their last matchup earlier in the season. Despite being without Durant and Harden, the Irving- led Nets won by a score of  130-96. This time around, Harden will look to be the one carrying his team to victory against one of the league’s premiere teams. Don’t expect another blowout, this will be an incredibly tough game for Brooklyn.

Friday, March 26th- Brooklyn Nets @ Detroit Pistons

On Friday, the Nets will end their road trip with a trip to Detroit for another rematch with the Pistons. They have already faced Detroit twice this season, and the series has been split 1-1. Brooklyn beat Detroit by a score of 100-95 in their last matchup about a week ago. Detroit has the third worst record in the NBA at 12-30. This is a game Brooklyn absolutely needs to win, especially if they lose one to either Portland or Utah. The Nets have at times shown subpar efforts in games against lesser competition this season. However, Harden and the Nets should be able to get the job done here with relative ease against one of the league’s worst teams.

What to Watch For: Can James Harden Strengthen his MVP case?

Over the weekend, LeBron James suffered a grueling ankle injury. With the injury, he is likely to miss extended time. A few weeks ago, he and Sixers’ star Joel Embiid were the prohibitive favorites to win the NBA MVP award. With both players now out with injury, the likelihood of the award going to either player has diminished. Now, players like Harden, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis seem to be the most likely candidates. Harden has been a walking triple double in his time with Brooklyn and has been instrumental to the team’s success. Despite Irving and Durant being in and out of the lineup, the Nets have remained dominant. This has been largely due to James Harden’s stellar play in a Nets uniform. His performance has put him at the forefront of the MVP discussion. This week, as the Nets play without Kyrie Irving, Harden has a chance to further strengthen his case. If, on his own, he can lead the Nets to tough back to back victories against the Blazers and league best Jazz, hey may end the week as the front runner. (That is, of course, if he isn’t already)

Will the Nets Make a Move at the Deadline?

Thursday, March 25th will mark the NBA’s trade deadline. The Nets have been incredibly active in adding to the roster this season, adding Harden, Blake Griffin and a slew of role players. While Brooklyn seems nearly complete, there has still been much speculation surrounding what the team will do at the trade deadline. Spencer Dinwiddie has received plenty of interest from teams looking to acquire him. Teams like the Heat, Bulls, Clippers, and Raptors have already been reported to be potentially interested in the Nets’ injured guard. Dinwiddie is likely out for the season and due for an extension at the end of the year. This is making it appear increasingly likely he will get dealt by Thursday’s deadline. It is unclear what the Nets would require or even be able to receive in any trade for Dinwiddie. With a defense that still needs improvement, perhaps they will look for a defensive minded wing. Outside of moving Spencer Dinwiddie , it is unlikely that the Nets make any other trades before the deadline. Dinwiddie is one of the longest tenured Nets and surely a fan favorite. Brooklyn’s fans will be eager to see what their team does, if anything, to shake up the roster further before the trade deadline

How Will Brooklyn’s Front Court Rotation play out?

With the addition of Blake Griffin and emergence of Nicolas Claxton, the Nets have a suddenly crowded frontcourt. Griffin is coming off of his Nets’ debut in Sunday night’s game against the Wizards. Looking at the box score, his debut seems largely unimpressive. He had just 2 points, 2 rebounds and a block in 15 minutes of actions. When watching the game, however, his impact was clear. Griffin’s passing ability was on display, as he consistently set up his teammates with good looks. His presence in the post opened up shots for the shooters, and lanes for Nicolas Claxton to thrive. Claxton, who has been incredible for the Nets of late, ended up with 16 points for the Nets in his debut next to Griffin. The two big men proved to be an effective combination when on the floor together. On offense, Griffin’s playmaking and ball handling allows him to operate as the 4, while Claxton is an incredible rim runner at the 5. Meanwhile, on defense, Griffin showed his strength and ability to guard the post while Claxton used his length and lateral quickness to bother the guards on the wing. Interestingly, DeAndre Jordan started the game for Brooklyn, but it was the young Claxton who played down the stretch. He is making quite the case for starting time over Jordan, who has been much less effective. Still, the immediate chemistry of Griffin and Claxton is tough to ignore. As Griffin continues his integration to his new team and Claxton continues to flash his immense potential, Coach Nash will have some decisions to make regarding his current starters, Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan. Perhaps the week ahead will offer more clarity on the situation.

Week Prediction

James Harden leads the Nets to a 2-1 week. Portland will give the Nets everything they’ve got, but Brooklyn will prevail in a close battle. Playing Utah on the following night will be too tough for Brooklyn, who won’t have the legs to fight with the physicality of the Jazz. The Nets will then get back on track with a win against a bad Detroit team. Regardless of the outcome, fans should be in for some excellent action for the Brooklyn Nets in the week ahead!

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