Big game Saturday: Nets and Hawks battle for positioning in Atlanta

A mistake. When you’re up against the best of the best, one mistake is enough and you’re doomed. The Brooklyn Nets gave their nemesis the Milwaukee Bucks a hell of a fight Thursday night at Barclays Center. The game ended in overtime and the Nets fell just wide, dropping a point. The team enters today’s contest ranked ninth in the Eastern Conference standings after losing the season series to the Charlotte Hornets.

The opponent tonight is someone who is also jostling for an Eastern standings position. Nate McMillan and the Atlanta Hawks have had their own struggles this season, but hope they can keep running. They helped the cause by earning a play-in spot by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

Where to watch the game

Network YES for us. NBATV for the rest of you. WFAN on the radio. Tipping after 7:30 p.m.

injuries

Joe Harris and Ben Simmons are still out. Bruce Brown is out with a non-COVID illness, Goran Dragic is in health and safety protocols. Seth Curry is questionable with pain in his left ankle. Day’Ron Sharpe and David Duke Jr. were recalled from Long Island whose regular season ended Friday night.

John Collins is out with a sprained right finger and a sprained right foot. Trae Young is likely suffering from right groin pain. Jalen Johnson is in concussion protocol. Lou Williams is likely suffering from discomfort in his right ankle and lower back.

The game

Brooklyn had the first game in November and the second in December. This is the last regular season meeting between the two teams.

Watch the rankings! With five games to go before the match starts, we need to start paying more attention to what other people are doing. The Hornets are first at 12:30 p.m. as they hit the road to face the Philadelphia 76ers. The Cavs move up to second as they visit the New York Knicks at 1 p.m. Exciting times.

Hopefully, this is the last game outside of New York the Nets will play until the play-in/playoffs. Being able to rest at home and avoid traveling the last week of the season could be useful for this team.

The turnover battle will be critical. The Hawks spit only 11% of the time after the All Star break, the lowest rating in the league. Conversely, the Nets turned it over 14.5% of the time, fifth most in the NBA’s post All Star. To Brooklyn’s credit, they forced their fair share of turnovers (fifth-best opposing turnover rate since the break). Don’t get me wrong, we’re in playoff-level situations as of now, and the Nets must have to Homework make the most of every possible possession.

The battle of the greats will be crucial. For Atlanta, Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu are in the middle for them. Okongwu in particular has made the most of his playing time and provides the Hawks with solid rim protection and rebound. Capela is a solid rim who has been running since coming from the Houston Rockets in 2020 and hopes to improve his game tonight from previous matchups. For the Nets, we’ll see how they use Nic Claxton and Andre Drummond. Assuming the Hawks force a lot of changes, Clax could end up seeing the lion’s share of important minutes if the game ends late.

The three-point shot will be crucial tonight. Since the break, Brooklyn has allowed teams to shoot 38.9% from three-pointers, the third-highest mark in the NBA. On the season, the Hawks allow teams to shoot 36.4% from downtown, fourth-highest in the NBA. ATL leads the season in three-point shooting and Brooklyn is third after the All Star break. The Nets offense has come together, and one person who needs to join in the fun is Patty Mills. Our old friend, John Schuhmann, shared a disturbing statistic on Twitter on Friday:

Eek! The Nets need more Mills if they want to win and go on a deep run.

As a sixth man, you can do much worse than Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogie helps make things work and is third on the team in points on the season. As the Hawks get closer to the playin, they’re going to need a little more Bogdanovic to get the Hawks back into the playoffs.

Kevin Durant’s ankle is a little sore, but the Reaper is ready to work. He narrowly missed putting the dagger in the Bucks on Thursday, but he’s been fantastic since returning from injury. In the previous 14 games, KD has averaged around 30/7/7 on a 0.521/0.388/0.942 shooting spread. With Collins out, the Hawks have one less option to throw at Durant, so look for Brooklyn to mount their MVP early and often.

Player to watch: Trae Young

You see the growth. Young improved with each season he was in the league and became the Hawks’ most exciting player since Dominique Wilkins. He’s upped it lately, averaging 29 points and 10 assists from a 0.496/0.397/0.941 spread over his last seven games. Young’s jump shot is his calling card, but he’s a shrewd finisher at the rim and has had a career-best 61.8% of his shots from within three feet this season. The Nets have given him trouble this season and have given him various looks. If they can replicate that achievement one more time, they’ll be in line for a critical victory.

Maybe getting out of New York will do her some good? Kyrie Irving has struggled since returning to New York after COVID-19 vaccine mandates made him ineligible for home games. On Thursday night, he finally shot above 40% from the field for the first time since the Memphis Grizzlies game, but just barely. He took a lot more licks of paint on Thursday, and that’s something he’ll need to do a lot more down the stretch. Those stretches where he’s the only star on the pitch could be where he’s looking for his own shot a bit more. When constantly attacking, it is impossible to defend itself and forces its opponents to make impossible choices.

From the safe

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