The Nets started the new year off with a bang and pulled out a gritty 98-95 win on Monday over the Orlando Magic. It was a total team performance aided by lights-out defense, which isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of this year. Orlando, who was without a few of their key contributors, shot 36.5 percent from the floor overall and 19.4 percent from three.
It marked the ninth occasion this season where Brooklyn kept their opponent under the century mark, and they’re a perfect 9-0 in those games. While they want to maintain the momentum on the defensive end, it’s a daunting task against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota is 8-2 in their last 10 games and, for the season as a whole, have the sixth-most voluminous offense at 108.7 points a night. Jimmy Butler has been clicking during the last month and is putting up a staggering 26.6 points a night. The offense starts with him. It’s priority number one to limit Butler when he has the ball in his hands.
That, of course, is easier said than done. It requires the entire team to be extra-attentive. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is likely to draw the assignment, but rotations must be swift and closing out on shooters is crucial; the Brooklyn Nets had issues with that during the game against Orlando but got lucky more times than not.
Dealing With Injuries To Key Playmakers
Being defensive-first is a strategy that’s increasingly necessary as the injuries pile up. Brooklyn’s had a difficult time manufacturing points over the last couple of weeks, and being without Caris LeVert just adds more strain. In the previous 10, he’s averaging 14.3 points but also 5.2 assists; Kenny Atkinson has looked at him to be the primary ball handler with the second unit. Now that he’s injured, it’ll be a hunt to find someone to fill that void. It could very well be Isaiah Whitehead if he’s called up, or maybe the team gives Milton Doyle some extended play.
The silver lining is that the Nets have found their stroke from three, which makes everything else easier to run. Over their last eight contests, 38.8 percent of the triples are falling, and Nik Stauskas has been blistering with a clip of 57.1 percent. As Atkinson looks at ways to scrounge up offense, look for Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor to be involved. Yes, Jah is (likely) free!
Jahlil Okafor To Make Home Debut?
Atkinson and his staff expect to see Okafor suit up on Wednesday, according to NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca, after an ongoing battle to get his conditioning right. He was the piece they wanted from the Philadelphia 76ers, and everyone was getting antsy waiting for him to debut. His lone contest came back in December against the Toronto Raptors, where he played 23 minutes and scored 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
While it’s unclear how many minutes Okafor’s going to play, his archaic style is refreshing for a team who’s deeply invested in the three-point shot. Having a back-to-the-basket player helps keeps the defense honest. If Okafor gets hot and begins to draw double teams, that’ll leave the shooters open, and don’t forget that they’ve been feeling it lately.
The Brooklyn Nets offense could easily go on a couple of runs against Minnesota. Tom Thibodeau, despite being a defensive guy, hasn’t whipped his team into shape yet. They allow 109.8 points per 100 possessions, and it’s in Brooklyn’s best interest to keep the pace as fast as possible. Minnesota doesn’t get out and run often despite having the personnel.
Nothing in the NBA is a given. Therefore, the Brooklyn Nets could pull out a victory. It’ll just take a nearly-perfect night and that’s unlikely. Minnesota has more talent than Brooklyn and are carrying a heap of momentum with them into the Barclays Center. They are — rightfully — the favorites to win.