Portland Trail Blazers (17-24) vs Brooklyn Nets (11-28)
Friday, January 15
Barclays Center | 4:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland Injury Report: Moe Harkless (Knee - Probable) | Brooklyn Injury Report: Jarrett Jack (Out - Knee), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Out - Ankle), Chris McCullough (Knee - Questionable), Willie Reed (Personal - Out)
SBN Affiliate: Nets Daily | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
The Portland Trail Blazers (17-24) head east to face the Brooklyn Nets (11-28) at the Barclays Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:30 PST. Tonight's game is the first of a three game road trip for the Blazers after a five game homestand.
The Blazers have looked good over the last week - trouncing the Jazz 99-85 on Wednesday and stealing a win from the Thunder last Sunday. The Nets beat the Knicks 110-104 in their last contest, led by 20 points from Brook Lopez and a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double from Thaddeus Young. Going into the Knicks game the Nets had lost their last five and 13 of the last 16.
Front office in turmoil
Last month, Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov purchased Bruce Ratner's share of the Nets and Barclays Center to become the sole owner of the team. Prokhorov had previously purchased 80 percent of the team and 55 percent of the arena in 2010.
Earlier this week, Prokhorov followed up his purchase of the team by firing coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning GM Billy King.
Many Nets fans lauded the decision to fire Hollins, who never fit well with the Nets. Under Hollins, the team's office had stagnated. For long stretches players would barely move and the only shots the team got would be contested mid-range jumpers. The team also regularly failed to get Brook Lopez, their only true offensive threat, the ball for long periods of time. Defensively they fared slightly better, but still have a defensive rating of only 104.7, No. 21 in the league. Not what you would expect, given Hollins' history in Memphis. Like the fans, the Nets' players were reportedly less than upset to hear of Hollins' departure.
A number of names have been mentioned as candidates to replace Hollins, including: John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau, Monty Williams, and Scott Brooks. Tony Brown has stepped in as interim head coach.
King had been, at times, a downright awful GM; He is responsible for the now infamous deal to acquire Gerald Wallace from the Blazers for a mid-lottery pick that would become Damian Lillard. Even more damaging has been King's propensity for trading future draft picks while searching for short term improvement. Largely because of a 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Nets do not control their own first round pick until 2019, and have only two second round picks between now and 2021.
The result of these trades: One trip to the second round of the playoffs in 2014, and a bottom three roster in 2016.
It cannot be overstated how bleak the future appears for the Nets at the moment. Despite being terrible they have no lottery picks to improve, and, outside of Brook Lopez, they have virtually no trade-able players. Their only hope for improvement is free agency. However, given the franchise's current state of affairs and preponderance of cap space available to rivals this summer, it may be difficult to tempt marquee players to Brooklyn.
Fewer names have been linked to the Nets' GM search, as compared to their coaching vacancy. Most notably Danny Ferry, the architect of the Hawks' current roster before his dismissal under less than ideal circumstances last season, and Bryan Colangelo, who was responsible for the "seven second or less" Suns, have been rumored to be candidates.
It is important to note that King may not deserve all the blame for the Nets' current predicament. When Prokhorov bought the team he demanded immediate improvement, with an eye toward expediting a return to contention. Some of the damaging transactions, including the acquisition of Pierce and Garnett, may have been negotiated at his urging.
Almost incomprehensible, Prokhorov seems to have learned little about the intricacies of creating a contender in the NBA, and, at times, sounds almost oblivious to the realities of the league. He said on Monday that he expects the Nets can be a contender next season, and followed it up with this:
"Frankly speaking, I deserve a championship now much more than six years ago," Prokhorov said. "I think we have been really bold, and we did our best in order to reach a championship. And I still believe with some luck our results might have been more promising. But, I'll do my best to make us a championship team."
It'd be interesting to hear Paul Allen's response to Prokhorov's claim that the Nets deserve a championship now.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver claims to fully support Prokhorov, noting that there is a learning curve for new owners. At the same time, the other owners may eventually grow tired of the Nets' blatant mismanagement. Non-competitive teams are bad for the league and drive down ticket prices for everyone. The league proved its willingness to intervene in egregious cases last month when they reportedly forced the 76ers to hire Jerry Colangelo in an effort to bring the Philadelphia franchise back to respectability. If Prokhorov goes "all-in" again, with similarly disastrous results, will the league step in to forcibly rebuild the Nets? In 10 years will there be a "Prokhorov Corollary" to the "Stepien Rule"?
On the court
Jarrett Jack tore his ACL on January 2 against the Celtics. His absence has been a major blow to the Nets. And that's pretty much all you need to know!
Seriously, though, Jack is a fine player and competent point guard, but he is not good enough to be an essential part of a team. He was averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists on 39 percent shooting and had started every game this season at the time of his injury.
Their best players this season have been Lopez and Young. Lopez is averaging 19.7 points per game and 8.5 rebounds, while Young adds 15.6 and 9.3. Lopez is a former All-Star and great low post scorer, but a poor rebounder and below average defender for a 7-footer. Young is a good athlete who has the quickness to defend pick-and-rolls, and is a decent shooter from the mid-range. He came into the league as a 76er and briefly looked like a potential building block, before leveling off as a slightly above average, undersized power forward.
The Nets were also pleased with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's development, especially on defense, but he is currently out with a broken ankle.
Beyond that the Nets play Joe Johnson, Shane Larkin and Bojan Bogdanovic major minutes. Johnson somehow leads the team in minutes per game at 34.7 despite being mostly inefficient and ineffective.
From a team perspective, the Nets struggled on offense and defense under Hollins. With only two games under his belt, it's unclear what plans Brown has for the team for the rest of the year. Even Prokhorov acknowledges that the team lacks a real identity:
I think that I want us to have a much firmer blueprint [of] what kind of players we are looking for and why. There needs to be a strategic balance, developed with a new coach and with new GM. So I think we need to have a sense of identity and style of play. Are we building a team around franchise player, or are we balancing with younger athletes without superstar system, or are we about 3-point shooting or defense or speed?
Keys to the game
Don't assume this will be an easy victory: Since the Celtics have their 2016 first round pick, the Nets have no reason to tank this year, and their players may be motivated to salvage some respectability out of the season. The Blazers cannot assume tonight's game will be an easy victory.
Stop BroLo: Lopez is their best player, and is a legitimate threat in the low post. The Nets, however, lack outside shooting. Larkin and Donald Sloan are the only players who shoot better than 33.8 percent from three. Larkin is 3-15 over the last seven games and Sloan has only 12 attempts in the last seven games. The Blazers should focus their defense on Lopez, and Young if he is shooting well, and let the Nets' wings and guards brick 3-pointers.
Move the ball around the perimeter: The Nets give up a lot of 3-pointers and a lot of assists. Using ball movement to find open shooters is a Portland strength. If the Blazers run their base offense well they should be able to score easily against the Nets' subpar defense.
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