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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets Preview

The Blazers land in Brooklyn today to take on the struggling Nets.

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Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (32-13, No. 3 in the West) vs. Brooklyn Nets (18-26, No. 9 in the East)
Monday, January 26
Barclays Center; Brooklyn, NY | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD, NBATV; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland, Nicolas Batum (questionable) | Out for the Nets: Mirza Teletovic, Deron Williams (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: NetsDaily Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night

The Blazers are in Brooklyn tonight to take on the Nets at Barclays Center. Portland won the last meeting between the two teams back in mid-November, 97-87, but both will feature different rotations as injuries have taken their toll on the two franchises since.

The Nets climbed up to .500 on January 2, when they beat the Magic on the road and sat at 16-16. Since, Brooklyn has gone 2-10 and now sits at 18-26 and in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference.

Starting point guard Deron Williams has been out since the beginning of the month with an injury to his ribs and is questionable for tonight's game. On Friday, the Nets announced that forward Mirza Teletovic will miss the remainder of the year due to blood clots in his lungs. Starting wing Joe Johnson has been playing through tendinitis in his knee and ankle.

The Blazers have been without centers Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland for weeks, and forward Nicolas Batum may not play tonight because of an injured wrist that's been bothering him since mid-December. All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb last Monday, missed losses against the Suns and Celtics last week before opting to postpone surgery until this summer and coming back Saturday night in a gutsy win over the Wizards.

Brooklyn plays at a pretty slow pace and is near the bottom of the league in both Offensive and Defensive Rating the last five games, according to The Nets struggle to score, don't pass the ball well and have trouble hitting the few three-pointers they attempt as a team. They don't score much in the paint or in transition.

Point guard Jarrett Jack has been Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins' main scorer and ball distributor in the absence of Williams. While Jack has hit half his midrange jumpers the last five games, he's gotten into the paint for only about a third of his attempts in that time and has been horrible from outside. He finds teammates for good looks relatively often, but 3.4 turnovers a game the last couple weeks have dampened Jack's effectiveness. His backup, fourth-year guard Darius Morris, has not shot or passed well lately in limited minutes. If Williams is still out tonight, Jack and Morris will be the only healthy point guards available for Hollins.

Johnson takes about a dozen shots a night and creates almost three-quarters of his offense off the dribble. He's done a decent job of getting into the paint recently but he hasn't finished well, and his pull-up jumpers have been way off. Johnson's hit just 21.4 percent of his threes the last five games overall, and his numbers are down across the board in that time, specifically his point production. He went 9-of-18 from the floor the first time these two teams met, though, and has the size and length to bother smaller wing defenders like Portland guards Wesley Matthews, Allen Crabbe, CJ McCollum and Will Barton.

Center Brook Lopez has been unable to hit his midrange shots recently but he's gotten to the rim quite frequently and has been reliable inside. He draws a lot of fouls and shoots well from the line, but has been surpassed in the rotation by second-year center Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn's most consistent offensive player. Plumlee rarely drifts outside of the paint for his attempts and has nailed 74.1 percent of his shots at the rim the last five games. Don't be surprised to see his athleticism become a tough matchup for Blazers starting center Chris Kaman.

Forward Kevin Garnett starts for Hollins in the frontcourt opposite Plumlee, and although he's down to just a handful of shots a game -- the vast majority of them from the midrange -- he's a bankable shooter. Starting shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic only puts up about a half-dozen shots a night, making 36.4 percent of them the last several games.

Outside of Lopez, Hollins has a tough task finding scoring from his reserves. The rotation goes about 12-deep, but backup guards Markel Brown, Sergey Karasev and Alan Anderson have all shot below 40 percent from the field the last five games. Bigs Cory Jefferson and Jerome Jordan both hardly shoot at all.

Brooklyn's defense has allowed 50.8 percent shooting from the field the last five games and 36.2 percent from outside, both at or near the bottom of the NBA in that span. The Nets don't defend well in transition, allow easy ball movement and struggle when defending the perimeter.

The Blazers didn't look very good offensively against the Suns and Celtics without Aldridge, as open shots were difficult to come by and guards Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews weren't able to shoulder the scoring burden by themselves.

Aldridge's shocking return Saturday night against Washington reinforced how important he is in coach Terry Stotts' offense. The attention Aldridge received from the Wizards' defense allowed Portland's perimeter players to find open shots, and the team picked up a 103-96 win while shooting 13-of-31 from beyond the arc.

Aldridge hit nine of his 22 shots, scoring 26 points and securing nine rebounds while making several trips to the free throw line and converting on all eight of his tries. Lillard only needed to put up 13 shots against Washington -- he also hit eight free throws -- and finished with seven assists. With Aldridge in the game, Lillard sees less pressure from opposing defenses and is able to pick his spots better instead of forcing contested shots. Jack is a better defender than Williams, but Lillard should still be able to get into the paint and finish while drawing plenty of free throws tonight; Plumlee and Lopez have both had trouble keeping their foul totals low lately.

Matthews had a hard time shooting anything other than three-pointers on Saturday, but a 5-of-11 performance from deep paced his offense well and he finished with 19 points. He should be able to get plenty of open three-pointers up against Brooklyn tonight, as the Nets' perimeter defense leaves much to be desired.

Batum sat out Saturday and probably won't play tonight. Stotts started Crabbe in his place but went with Barton and forward Dorell Wright at the small forward position for the majority of the game. Barton had a tough time finishing but competed hard and contributed on the glass, while Wright drilled three outside shots on five attempts and was active not only on the boards but also as a distributor. Wright generally seems able to come in and help the team in limited minutes off the bench even if he hasn't played in several games, but when he's getting 20+ minutes like he did against the Wizards, he's able to establish more of a groove with his shooting and can get hot for stretches.

Kaman played 25 minutes against the Wizards but his offense didn't look pretty. He should probably take a backseat offensively in the starting lineup, but still forces shots occasionally and sometimes tries to do more than he's capable of with the ball. Reserve center Meyers Leonard has played pretty well recently, and his outside shot has been difficult for opposing teams to guard. He finished the game Saturday alongside Aldridge in the frontcourt, and Lillard told the Oregonian that the floor-spacing provided by the respective shooting ranges of Aldridge and Leonard help him penetrate and get easier looks at the basket.

The bench play was much better against the Wizards than it had been recently, led by Wright and Leonard. Point guard Steve Blake has been struggling with his shot, but his minutes are down and he's still able to pick up assists off the bench in limited time. McCollum and Barton have been streaky at best lately. Power forward Thomas Robinson always injects an extra degree of energy into games, and he's been a part of Stotts' rotation the last several games, but he's not been much of a factor offensively outside of some solid hustle plays. His four turnovers in 14 minutes against the Wizards were also a little tough to swallow.

Portland's defense has been subpar recently, as the Wizards shot 48.8 percent from the field and collected 17 fastbreak points and 24 assists Saturday. The Nets aren't a huge threat to do either tonight, but allowing them to make almost half their shots would certainly make life difficult for the Blazers, who will already likely be without one of their two best perimeter defenders in Batum.

Neither team has rebounded the ball well lately, but Brooklyn has been one of the worst teams in the NBA the last five games on the glass. Garnett leads the Nets this year in rebounding with 7.1 per game, and their two centers -- Lopez and Plumlee -- are both fairly ineffective on the boards. Aldridge, Leonard and Kaman should all be able to overpower Brookyln's bigs for rebounds, but Johnson and Jack do a good job of chipping in from the backcourt.

Portland had a pretty intense scare last week when Aldridge hurt his thumb and was expected to miss a couple months, but his team has restored faith in itself since he came back against the Wizards. The Blazers are still without Lopez and Freeland, while Batum is nowhere near 100 percent and Aldridge will be playing through pain in his left thumb, but the Nets are experiencing much more disarray and haven't been able to ride Johnson, Plumlee & Co. to many wins the last few weeks as Williams deals with injuries and the team fields trade offers for anyone on the roster.

The Blazers may be too hurt to put the Nets away early, but they should be capable of salting away another game against a sub-.500 opponent. Brooklyn has lost by a combined 74 points in the team's last two games against the Clippers and Jazz, and Portland should be able to take advantage of the Nets' poor scoring late in games while getting points from Aldridge, Lillard and Matthews down the stretch.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter