If last year’s Lakers were classified as a disappointment, then this year’s Brooklyn Nets team could be on the path to be classified as something much worse. After a huge offseason that saw their payroll balloon to the $100 million range with the acquisitions of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets have gotten off to a disastrous start. They were able to get back on the winning track last night, however, with a 102-100 victory in Toronto. They have had lots of injuries, to be fair, including to their younger players in Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, but even with everyone in the lineup they have struggled under first year coach Jason Kidd. Coming off last night’s loss to the Wizards and facing a team with future hall of famers in Garnett and Pierce, the Lakers would be foolish to come out lackadaisical in this one.
Frontcourt: Brook Lopez, who did not play last night against the Raptors and is questionable for tonight, is the only member of the Nets who has looked like himself this season. Lopez is averaging 20.5 points per game on the season on upwards of 57% shooting from the field and is among the most skilled big men in the game. With Lopez probably out, Andray Blatche will likely start in his place. Blatche was known as a low-IQ, yet highly talented player during his days with the Wizards. Blatche has evolved into a more reliable role player since coming to Brooklyn last season, but he is still more suited for a bench role. The Lakers must be sure to match his energy.
Kevin Garnett is one of the best power forwards of all time and will be a first ballot. However, this season has been far and away the worst of his career. While he has missed a couple of games due to injury, KG has been ineffective while on the court. He’s averaging a career low 6.5 points per game and is only shooting 35 percent from the field (stats effective prior to last night’s Nets game vs. Raptors). He’s remains a solid rebounder, and will always have the desire to compete defensively so long as he is on the court. His mid range game has always been excellent, so look for those shooting numbers to rise sooner rather than later. Any time Kevin Garnett steps foot on the basketball court, he must be accounted for, no matter what his stats say.
Backcourt: Deron Williams, once considered in the discussion for best point guard in the game, is also off to the worst start of his career. He is averaging a measly 9.3 points per game, and appears to have lost some of the quickness that made him such a tough cover several years ago. He is also, however, unlikely to play tonight. Joe Johnson starts at the two for Brooklyn. Johnson has been on a steady decline for several years now since the days of him being a perennial all-star for the Atlanta Hawks. Johnson’s numbers are pretty similar to those of last season, as he comes in averaging 15.1 points per night. Johnson has a smooth game on the wing, and is still a knockdown shooter. He cannot be given open looks from three (shooting 45% from beyond the arc on over four attempts per game on the year).
Paul Pierce, another familiar foe to Laker fans, is another Net who hasn’t produces the way all basketball fans are accustomed to this season. Pierce is averaging a career low 13 points per game on only 37% from the field. Pierce has been one of the toughest one-on-one covers in the league during his storied career. Wes Johnson, who is likely to get the start on Pierce, must stay down on the crafty Pierce’s assortment of ball fakes and other moves and force him to hit contested jump shots.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Defensive and Offensive Rebounding: Even with a healthy Brook Lopez, the Nets are a poor rebounding team. It is part of the reason the team employs Reggie Evans in its rotation. An energetic Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol on both the offensive and defensive boards could spell trouble for an older Nets team that ranks just 20th in the league in rebounds per game.
Push Tempo: If there were ever a team that the Lakers would want to run on, the Nets are it. The Nets lack athleticism at nearly every spot on the floor, and the Lakers have to look to come out with great energy. Both teams will be playing the second night of a back-to-back, but the younger Lakers should more in the tank than an older Nets team.
Continued Pau Resurgence: Pau Gasol looks to finally be rounding into the Pau that Laker fans remember. He has been finding himself on the block much more, and has been much more efficient and finally has his field goal percentage up some (now 42% on the year). Pau has had his problems with KG in the past (2008 Finals, to be specific), and must not be intimidated by the trash talk of Garnett. If the Lakers want to make a playoff run down the road, Pau must continue to get into top form.
Brooklyn Nets (4-10) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7-8)
4:30 PM PST, November 27, 2013
Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Nets Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Shaun Livingston
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Andray Blatche
Key Reserves: PF Reggie Evans, SG Alan Anderson, G Jason Terry