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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets Preview

The Blazers, on a three-game winning streak and likely without both Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, play the Brooklyn Nets tonight at the Moda Center, marking the third game in four nights for the visitors.

Bruce Bennett
Saturday, November 15
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: NBATV, CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge (doubtful) | Out for the Nets: Sergey Karasev
SBN Affiliate: NetsDailyTimmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Nets Season PreviewBlazer's Edge Night

The Blazers return to the Moda Center tonight to take on the Brooklyn Nets, losers of two straight and playing their third road game in four nights.

Before their three-game road trip that ends tonight in Portland, the Nets were 4-2. Still, shooting guard Joe Johnson criticized his team's play as "selfish" earlier this week, and noted that Brooklyn hadn't "played anybody" to that point in the season.

Apparently, Johnson was right -- the Nets had wins over the pistons, Knicks, Magic and a severely undermanned Thunder team, with losses to the Celtics and Timberwolves through six games.

In back-to-back matchups this past Wednesday and Thursday, Brooklyn lost to the Suns and Warriors, two playoff-calibre Western Conference teams.

The Nets are one of the more efficient shooting teams in the NBA, and top-six in the league or better in effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage, overall shooting percentage and field goals made per game.

The selfishness Johnson alluded to, though, is apparent when considering Brooklyn's 19.3 assists per game as a team -- good for No. 23 in the league. According to stats, 58.4 percent of their two-point field goals are unassisted, the second-highest total for all 30 teams.

Johnson may have had a point, but his criticisms of the team's play don't come without a hint of irony; he leads the team in scoring (19 points per game) and field goal attempts (15.5 per game) while scoring more unassisted field goals than any of his teammates by a fairly large margin.

Most of Johnson's points come in the paint, where he's a good finisher. He also has a reliable jumper and is dynamite from outside right now, hitting 42.4 percent of his outside attempts, the corner-three being his best shot.

Nets point guard Deron Williams is largely a jump shooter at this point of his career, but has gotten some of his explosiveness back since healing from the lingering ankle injuries that hampered him the last couple seasons. Williams takes it to the rim occasionally but prefers to shoot from both elbows.

Center Brook Lopez -- matching up with his brother tonight, Blazers center Robin Lopez -- gets plenty of touches down low, but has struggled to finish his looks this year, converting on just 46.6 percent of his field goals.

Starting wing Bojan Bogdanovic, who's having a solid rookie season, gets up 8.5 shots a game, hitting 47.1 percent of them. He also takes about four threes a night, hitting 35.5 percent from deep.

Backup power forward Mirza Teletovic is a deadeye three-point shooter, particularly from the right half of the court, making 44.4 percent of his threes this year. Look for him to score around the perimeter exclusively in catch-and-shoot situations -- not a single one of his made three-pointers this year has been unassisted.

Big men Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee both get up a handful of field goals, but neither has shot particularly well this year. Wing Alan Anderson is a reliable three-point shooter, but has limited attempts. Backup point guard Jarrett Jack has been a solid scorer off the bench, scoring nine points per game in 24.4 minutes and making 57.7 percent of his attempts. On Thursday against the Warriors, Jack went 10-for-10 from the field and led the Nets with 23 points in the loss.

Brooklyn struggles to stop opposing teams from scoring, allowing a ton of fast break points and baskets in the paint while letting teams move the ball with ease. They're mediocre at defending the three-point line and give up plenty of easy shots.

The Blazers will have to take advantage of the Nets' porous defense tonight, as they'll likely be without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, team-leader in scoring, rebounding, field goals attempted, minutes played and free throws attempted per game.

In a 17-point spanking of the Nuggets Wednesday night, point guard Damian Lillard went 10-of-16 from the fioor and 5-of-6 from deep for 27 points and nine assists in 30 minutes. He's a 44.6 percent three-point shooter on the year, though he's struggled to finish in the lane at times. Without Aldridge and small forward Nicolas Batum, Lillard might have to play the roles of both primary scorer and distributor for the Blazers tonight.

Shooting guard Wesley Matthews is a 35.2 percent three-point shooter this year, but he hit 60 percent of his threes in two games against the Nets last year. Because he is smaller than most of the guards in Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins' backcourt rotation, don't expect to see a lot of Matthews' post-up game tonight.

Centers Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman make a surprisingly solid frontcourt scoring duo -- Lopez has made 54.7 percent of his shots this year as the starter, with Kaman sinking 61.2 percent of his attempts off the bench. Both have the length and size to score down low and have shown decent range out to about 10-15 feet.

After Batum went down with a knee contusion in Sunday's win over Denver, Blazers coach Terry Stotts surprised many by starting wing Allen Crabbe in his place against the Hornets, which will likely be the case again tonight. Last year when Aldridge was hurt for 13 games, Stotts went with small forward Dorell Wright as a frontcourt starter in a stretch lineup.

Portland's coach wouldn't tell reporters who would start at power forward tonight if Aldridge can't go, but Kaman and backup big Joel Freeland are bound to see an increase in minutes. Reserve forward Thomas Robinson and center Meyers Leonard have seen little meaningful court-time lately, but might get bumped into Stotts' frontcourt rotation against the Nets.

Steve Blake hasn't shot well off the bench so far this year, but in 22.2 minutes per game, he's been a valuable initiator of the offense and a solid passer. Backup wing CJ McCollum has had hot and cold games up to this point, but he's made almost half his threes and, besides Crabbe, has seen the biggest uptick in minutes for any Blazer in light of Batum's absence the last two games. Wing Will Barton has played minimal minutes in non-blowout situations lately.

The Blazers' defense is rolling right now, sitting at No. 1 in the NBA in opponents assists allowed per game, No. 3 in opponents effective field goal percentage and No. 1 in both opponents three-pointers made and attempted. They put teams at the foul line fairly often and are average at defending the fast break and the paint, but the Blazers have tightened up their defense fairly significantly this season, ranking No. 10 in overall defensive efficiency for the season, according to

Garnett and Plumlee are Brooklyn's best individual rebounders, though they've been unable to keep the Nets afloat on the boards. Brooklyn's been heavily out-rebounded on both ends of the court the last two games. Like the Blazers, though, their wings and guards are active on the glass. Even without Aldridge, Portland's best individual rebounder, the Blazers' frontcourt should be competitive with solid contributors like Kaman, Freeland and Robinson receiving extended action tonight.

Portland needs to get out and run against Brooklyn, as they're coming off two days of rest while the Nets are playing their third road game in four nights after giving up a combined 54 fast break points against the Suns and Warriors earlier this week.

Without Batum and Aldridge, much of the halfcourt offense will likely be generated by Lillard, Matthews and Kaman. The Nets have good individual scorers in both the front and backcourts, but they don't have the ball movement of Portland. If the short-handed Blazers can come out and pass as well as they did against the Hornets (25 team assists) and Nuggets (30 team assists) earlier this week, they should be able to generate enough points to compete with Brooklyn.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter