The Nets winning streak has reached seven games, but Friday’s meeting with the Indiana Pacers will put that streak in jeopardy. The Pacers sit at 20-12 on the season, and with Victor Oladipo back in the lineup after missing time with a knee injury, the Nets face a tough road to get to eight straight.
Here are a few things Brooklyn has to do to get past the Pacers:
Don’t score under 100 again
This is the most obvious thing in the world, but the Nets barely snuck past the Bulls on Wednesday because of a low-scoring first half.
The Nets currently sit 16th in the NBA in points per game at 110.6 per game, but on Wednesday they were held under 100 for the fifth time this season. They won, because the Bulls aren’t a very good offensive team, but this Nets team had been 0-4 on the year when scoring under 100. That won’t cut it against the Pacers. Indiana has the league’s ninth-best scoring defense (104.2 points per game) to go with their own middle of the road scoring offense (17th in the NBA at 105.6 points per game).
The idea of just hit some shots! is incredibly reductive, but it bears repeating — if you think the Nets can stretch this winning streak to eight games, they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders against a strong Pacers defense. Ball movement will be important. Getting clean looks from outside for Joe Harris will be important. Having your guards hitting their shots will be important. Lots of things have to go right.
Protect the interior
Turner is putting up 12.5 and 7 this year in 27.8 minutes per game, while Sabonis is putting up 14.1 and 9.9 in 24.7 minutes. And because the two seem to work better separately than together, you’re getting nearly 48 minutes of both guys working the paint on you.
Here’s what Pacers writer Grant Afseth had to say about the Turner/Sabonis pairing when I asked him earlier this week:
I believe that Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis can work together but it’s probably a matter of determining if that’s what is best to win in today’s NBA. Turner has to cover up Sabonis’ on-ball defense against stretch four’s and that lowers the overall defensive capabilities of the unit. They can definitely play well together offensively with Turner becoming a more efficient perimeter shooter as of late. Sabonis has done a good job of creating some baskets for Turner whether with post entry passes or just dishing it to him in rhythm going towards the basket. If Turner can keep knocking down 3-pointers, they can bully teams off switches if they can control the tempo. It can work but it’s definitely a different look on the flow in a variety of key areas.
So, how do the Nets stop them?
We can’t look back at the earlier meeting for evidence, because Sabonis didn’t play and the Pacers still won by 20.
Jarrett Allen staying out of foul trouble is one key, though, as is getting good minutes from Ed Davis when Allen sits. This isn’t the night to go with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the five for stretches, because Sabonis or Turner should be able to beat him in the post, though getting good minutes from him when Sabonis and Turner play together will be crucial.
Should Shabazz Napier get some run?
Napier played 10 minutes against the Bulls, the most time he’s spent on the court since the Cavaliers game on December 3rd. He didn’t even play in five of the seven games on this winning streak.
On one hand, this makes sense to me. You already have two guys who can be your lead guards in D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, and Napier hasn’t shown too much of an ability to play the two-spot well. Defensively, he’s finished with a negative defensive box plus/minus in all but one of his seasons, though right now his D-PIPM of -0.3 ranks as better than Dinwiddie, Russell, and Allen Crabbe. He’s not a bad defender by any stretch, though he’s a bit undersized and probably can’t keep up if you need him to guard wing players.
Still, Rodions Kurucs has given the Nets a lot of good minutes with Allen Crabbe hurt, and I don’t want to take minutes away from him to give to Napier. I wrote before the season about what Napier’s role could be, but my main conclusions there was that the Nets could use Napier as an off-ball, catch and shoot threat due to the crowded point guard position. That hasn’t happened, and right now it looks like he’s best used as the third point guard when the team needs a veteran to come in and lead the offense. That’s a useful role, but it won’t lead to consistent minutes for Napier.
The Nets and Pacers face off at 7:30 P.M. EST at Barclays Center. You can catch the game on YES Network.