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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets Preview

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After a successful (by their standards) 2-2 homestand, the Brooklyn Nets kick off a nine-game road trip tonight in Portland against the Trail Blazers.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-27) vs Brooklyn Nets (15-41)
Tuesday, February 23
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
: NoneBrooklyn injury reportRondae Hollis-Jefferson (Out-Ankle), Jarrett Jack (Out - Knee)
SBN Affiliate: Nets Daily | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

After a successful (by their standards) 2-2 homestand, the Brooklyn Nets kick off a nine-game road trip tonight in Portland.

There's no delicate way to put this; the Nets are bad. They have little cohesiveness or direction, have the third worst offense in the league, and allow opponents to shoot 47 percent from the field, second worst in the NBA.

Brooklyn plays at a relatively slow tempo, focusing on working the ball inside and either taking shots in the paint or from the midrange, averaging fewer than 18 3-point attempts per game. While Brooklyn features a handful of decent 3-point shooters, the majority of their high-minute players tend to be more successful from closer in.

The Nets' offense revolves around center Brook Lopez, who has managed to stay healthy this season after multiple years dealing with foot injuries. Averaging 20 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, Lopez is one of the premier offensive big men in the game, featuring a decent back to the basket game and an amazingly soft touch on his turnaround jumper.

Over the last ten games, Lopez has stepped his game up even more, putting up more than 23 points a night on over 55 percent shooting from the field. Lopez has a tough time on the defensive end, where he plays relatively flat-footed and struggles to do anything besides be a basic pick-and-roll defender.

The other main cog in Brooklyn's offense is power forward Thaddeus Young, putting up 15 points and nine rebounds per game. Young is a bit of a tweener power forward, and does a solid job defending the perimeter. Young isn't quite a good enough 3-point shooter to be considered a true "stretch four," but does a decent job from the midrange and finishes well around the basket, almost exclusively with his left hand.

At 34 years old, Joe Johnson -- he of the untradeable contract --  has seen his performance fall off as he's aged. Still a decent 3-point shooter and rebounder for his position, Johnson's days as a primary offensive option are well in the rear view mirror, though he is still able to use an array of post-up moves to generate offense. For the season, Johnson is putting up 11.6 points and four rebounds per game.

With Jarrett Jack out with a knee injury, the starting point guard spot has gone to journeyman Donald Sloan, averaging six points and four assists per night. A below average shooter and passer, Sloan is more of a game manager who, while he fails to excel in any one area, will not make poor decisions.

Shooting guard Wayne Ellington is a relatively well-rounded player who is good, but not great from 3-point land, shooting 34 percent from distance this year. Over the last 10 games, he has upped his scoring to 12.3 points per outing on nearly 46 percent shooting from the floor and has had decent success as a defender, especially considering his 6-foot-4 frame.

For the time being it's unclear if anyone can have defensive success against the Blazers, one of the hottest teams in the league over the last six weeks. While on the surface, everything begins and ends with Damian Lillard and his torrid play, the Blazers have been winning with defense and well-rounded performances out of their bench unit, with seemingly a different reserve hero every night.

The Blazers are now 14-3 since Jan. 10 and 18-7 since Dec. 26, including winning their last five games decided by five points or less. Simply put, this is a team that, despite not having elite talent, is clicking on all cylinders and is playing truly as a unit right now. Brooklyn is going to have a hard time keeping with Portland's horses if the Blazers continue pushing the tempo like they have over the last several weeks.

Key matchups

Damian Lillard/Donald Sloan: Donald Sloan is a fine defensive point guard, but Lillard is absolutely on fire now, alternating between running the offense and taking over at will. After four consecutive 30-point games, look for Lillard to get his teammates involved in the offense and take a back seat until he's needed.

Mason Plumlee/Brook Lopez: Lopez is a tough matchup for anyone in the league, but Plumlee has a couple of advantages. First, he guarded Lopez day-in and day-out in practice during his time with the Nets, and second ,Lopez is not quick enough to guard quick big men. Plumlee has several holes in his game but speed and athleticism are not among them.

Things to look for

Meyers Leonard: With the Blazer offense (and defense) operating at peak efficiency right now, Leonard seems to be the odd man out, playing limited minutes, including only six minutes against the Utah Jazz even when it might have made sense to try and use him to pull Rudy Gobert out of the paint. This just goes to show how quickly he has fallen out of favor in the lineup. As Moe Harkless continues to eat away at his minutes, Meyers needs to start having an impact on the game before he gets boxed in to mop up/match up duty.

Second Chance Points: Portland snagged 23 offensive rebounds against Utah on Sunday night, demoralizing the Jazz again and again as they threatened to pull away. While they likely won't have as tough a fight this evening, second chance points will go a long way toward making a struggling team starting off a brutal road stretch crack early. The Nets just don't have the energy or athleticism to defend for long stretches.

Blazer's Edge Night

We've already donated over 1500 tickets so underprivileged children and youth can see the Portland Trail Blazers face the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. We're trying to get that number to 2000. We give them directly to schools, coaches, counselors, and others who work with kids in need. It makes a huge difference! Can you help out with a ticket or two?

Donating is easy. Just click here and use the promo code:

http://www.rosequarter.com/blazersedge

Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE

Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)

You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.