The eighth week of the NBA season is already upon us. Can you believe it’s been so long already?

This week, I talked to four people about the Nets and their upcoming opponents: Dan Gilinsky, the site expert at King James Gospel, David Brandon, a writer for Daily Thunder, Joshua Howe, a writer for Raptors Republic, and Melissa Sulewski, a Knicks fan and founder of the Instagram TopOfTheKeyCulture. Here’s what they had to say.

12/3 – vs Cavaliers – Dan Gilinsky

So, the eye test says that the Cavaliers are one of the league’s worst teams. Is there hope on the horizon, though?

The eye test is right when it comes to these Cavs. Cleveland is arguably the worst team in the league, but they have been playing much better since a disastrous loss in Charlotte. The team has played much better since Larry Drew has taken over as the head coach, and with George Hill’s absence for about a month, it enabled rookie point guard Collin Sexton to grow in a starting role.

As a starter, he’s been a whole lot better with 17.8 points on 45.7 percent shooting, to go with 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Rodney Hood and Cedi Osman have had their moments as well, but both are up and down on the wing. A bright spot has been Jordan Clarkson, who leads the Cavs in scoring (outside of Kevin Love for the first four games of the year), and has been great at getting to his sweet spots from pick-and-roll mismatches all season.

Tristan Thompson has been outstanding as well with 11.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and has routinely been Cleveland’s best player. While the Cavs are last in the league in defensive rating on the season, their rotations have been better over the last month, and the rebounding has been solid. The Cavs are going to be in the running for the 2019 number one pick, but even so, they have been making strides.

I really liked the David Nwaba signing, but he hasn’t had a huge role yet. How has he looked this year?

When he’s been active, David Nwaba has been the best defender on the Cavs. His length on the perimeter (a 7-foot wingspan) allows him to bother opposing primary ball-handlers on nearly every possession he’s involved in (just watch the tape from his defense on James Harden recently), and he’s been active offensively in getting to the foul line in both transition and as a cutter.

His 6.1 points per game doesn’t necessarily jump out to a casual fan, but Nwaba makes winning plays in always rebounding his position, brings undeniable toughness and will always do the little things to help his team. His 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes exemplify that.

When he’s had the chances, he’s far exceeded expectations and I would love to see Cleveland bring him back next summer if possible.

Who wins — Cavaliers or Nets?

I would expect the Nets to pull away in the fourth quarter and get the W, as the Cavs don’t have nearly enough playmakers to match the Nets, and Jarrett Allen presents a tough inside-out matchup for the Cavs to deal with.

12/5 – vs Thunder – David Brandon

The Thunder have quietly been one of the league’s best teams this year. Can they challenge for a spot in the Western Conference Finals?

Anything’s possible. I’m a little more optimistic about this possibility than I was at the start of the year, especially given how shaky Houston and Utah have looked to start. Can they? Sure. Will they? I don’t think so, at least as currently constructed.

I think they’re still short at least one shooter, and the revolving door on the wing needs to settle down. If Andre Roberson doesn’t come back to full health, I’m not sure there’s a good option for the postseason run on this roster. We’ll see, though.

Dennis Schroder seems to have really found a good fit on this team. How important is he to this team’s success?

Pretty important, not necessarily because he’s a great player, but because he fits the archetype the Thunder want to play with and gives them a good secondary ball handler.

At the moment, the Thunder probably has the most creators they’ve had since Reggie Jackson left. Playmaking has been even more of a weak spot for them than shooting for years, and Dennis fits the pace and style they want to play—fast, athletic, capable in pick and roll.

Having a capable backup who can start (and a passable backup for that backup, in Felton) has played a big role in the Thunder not falling off a cliff without Westbrook early in the year. And with a solid guard rotation, the other players who are less talented on ball can stretch their wings a bit.

Who wins — Thunder or Nets?

Thunder. Nets have been frisky to start the year, but if the Thunder plays up to what they can be, they should beat the Nets. Russell has been playing well lately, and Allen and Dinwiddie are solid too, but without LeVert, it’s hard to say if they have the sort of A1 talent that can power them through against Russ, PG, and Adams.

That being said, the Thunder have been guilty of playing lazy against “lesser” opponents before, and if they do the Nets are disciplined, hungry and athletic enough to make it uncomfortable for them. We’ll see.

12/7 – vs Raptors – Joshua Howe

I view the Raptors as the favorites in the East at this point. From your perspective, is that assumption pretty accurately in line with what you’ve seen from this team?

At this moment in time, absolutely. Boston has floundered (they’ll hit their stride sooner or later), Philadelphia may be the most flawed of the East powers, and Milwaukee, who started off gangbusters, has now lost three of their last five games. The Raptors, on the other hand, are 20–4 and have continued to beat teams despite having some major kinks to work out (I’m looking at you, bench). From an optimistic perspective, that should please Toronto fans, because it means that the club has nowhere near peaked yet and that as things continue to get ironed out, this charmed life should only prove to become more so. It is worth noting, however, that the Raps are about to enter the toughest phase of their schedule to date, so we should learn more about them soon as they’re hit with their first prolonged stretch of significant adversity.

Let’s talk about Pascal Siakam, whose name seems to be everywhere. What’s impressed you the most about him?

At this moment in time, absolutely. Boston has floundered (they’ll hit their stride sooner or later), Philadelphia may be the most flawed of the East powers, and Milwaukee, who started off gangbusters, has now lost three of their last five games. The Raptors, on the other hand, are 20–4 and have continued to beat teams despite having some major kinks to work out (I’m looking at you, bench). From an optimistic perspective, that should please Toronto fans, because it means that the club has nowhere near peaked yet and that as things continue to get ironed out, this charmed life should only prove to become more so. It is worth noting, however, that the Raps are about to enter the toughest phase of their schedule to date, so we should learn more about them soon as they’re hit with their first prolonged stretch of significant adversity.

Who wins — Raptors or Nets?

On paper, it should be a win for the Raptors. But the Nets are scrappy, and it could be a trap game for a team coming off of two games against playoff-caliber opponents (Denver, Philadelphia). At some point, head coach Nick Nurse and his team will also have to figure out how to solve their bench issues, because until those are fixed, teams (no matter how weak they are) will have a shot at coming back regardless of the size of lead the starters are able to build. Knowing that, Brooklyn has a chance, of course, but if I were a betting man, I’d still put my money on Toronto.

12/8 – at Knicks – Melissa Sulewski

One of my favorite surprises of the year has been Allonzo Trier. Is his current success something that can be sustained?

Trier is a transcendent player…we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with this guy. NBA-level player development resources are going to push his game in coming years, plus he has the mentorship of vets like KD (who he befriended years ago in OKC.)

We know he has skills – he’s averaging 12ppg, shooting 48.2% overall, 45% beyond the arc. But what I focus on is his the ability to put whatever feelings he might’ve had about being undrafted aside. Trier’s played extremely well at the collegiate level and was able to transition that game to the NBA despite teams passing on him during the draft. He makes clutch plays, hustles for the ball, and fires up the team when they need it most night after night. He’s not scared to go up against anyone. For a young guy to maintain the right headspace and perspective to come in, put aside emotions, and prove why he belongs in an organization speaks volumes about his mental and drive. I believe that’s what will enable Trier to sustain his momentum.

It’s been a little while since the last Knicks/Nets game. How do you see the battle for fourth place in the Atlantic going at this point?

Missing Caris and now Harris has made things murky. We’ve seen stellar performances from Dinwiddie, Russell, and Allen, but not consistently enough to sway the deal with Harris still being questionable. In another recent loss to the Wizards, for example, the Nets had completely different guys step up including Crabbe, RHJ, and Carroll. It feels like they’re struggling on switching teams without LeVert, and turnovers have been an issue.

Meanwhile, the Knicks are young and scrappy with growing chemistry and better shot selection lately. They held down the Warriors until the 4th a few weeks ago and just won a wild OT victory against Giannis’ Bucks. We’re seeing them get more stops, and the young rook Mitchell Robinson is a blocking machine who’s learning to stop getting so many ticky-tack fouls. With the Nets missing a few key bodies and Harris’ (usually impeccable) shooting % down in the games before his injury, I’d say fortune favors the Knicks in the Atlantic.

Who wins — Knicks or Nets?

If Caris LeVert was healthy I’d say Nets get the W with no issue. He’s been playing like an All-Star. Unless Harris comes back and goes back to shooting 40%+ beyond the arc I’m giving this one to the Knicks.

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