Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Oppo-Nets: February 4th-8th, 2019

Welcome back to Oppo-Nets, which took last week off because I had to finish some dissertation-related work and couldn’t get this piece up. We’re back now, though, to talk about this upcoming week in Brooklyn Nets basketball!

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This week, the Nets have three games. Tonight, they host the Bucks, followed by home games against the Nuggets and Bulls.

This week, we’ve brought in the following people to talk about these games. For the Bucks, we’ve got Ben Rauman, contributor for Behind The Bucks. For the Nuggets, it’s Ryan Blackburn from Denver Stiffs. And finally, for the Bulls we’ve got Vik Chokshi from The Action Network.

2/4 – vs Bucks

Giannis — MVP? What’s his case for getting it over Harden?

Let me just preface this by saying that James Harden has been an absolute monster the last couple months. The way he’s carried an injury-riddled Rockets roster recently has been nothing short of incredible.

However, here’s the case for Giannis: He’s led the Milwaukee Bucks, a franchise that has dwelt in mediocrity for the better part of its existence, to the best record in the NBA while serving as the key focal point in the league’s best defense and a top-four offense. He leads the league in Player Impact Estimate at 20.9, and is second in both defensive rating and net rating at 99.4 and 13.0 respectively.

Giannis has also done all this while playing just 33 minutes per night, due to the Bucks putting a lot of teams away early. The Bucks’ league-leading point differential is aided by Antetokounmpo’s league-leading Win Shares per 48 Minutes at .275.

Giannis has truly taken his game to another level this year, putting up Shaq-like numbers in the paint while having the vision to kick it out to his open shooters on the perimeter. No player other than perhaps LeBron James could run Mike Budenholzer’s scheme to the level of perfection Giannis has this year.

Milwaukee got a second All-Star this year in Khris Middleton, but he has the option of entering free agency this Summer. Where would the Bucks be if Middleton left?

Obviously, when you’re looking at potentially losing an All-Star-caliber player, it’s going to hurt. But when you take into account the market size of a city like Milwaukee, it becomes that much more difficult to acquire similar talent via free agency.

It would certainly be a hard pill to swallow if Middleton left, especially since the Bucks would be losing him for nothing. He gives the Bucks a little bit of everything, from defense to playmaking to scoring from all three levels of the court. While he’s actually struggled shooting the ball consistently this season, the impact he still makes while on the floor speaks volumes to the type of player he is.

Letting Middleton walk would be a mistake for Milwaukee, even if his next deal may be more than some think he’s worth. The Bucks would struggle to find another player who matches Middleton’s all-around game and complements their superstar so well on the open market come July. While Milwaukee has plenty of wing depth on its roster, losing Middleton would almost certainly cause the Bucks to take a step back next year barring a major free agent acquisition.

Who wins — Bucks or Nets?

Brooklyn has been on a tear the past month or so. D’Angelo Russell can go off on any given night, which is a scary prospect to opposing teams, and he’s been rewarded with his first All-Star appearance.

However, I have to go with the first-place Bucks who have won nine of their last ten and are well-rested after a night off following a relatively easy victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.

If the Bucks were coming in on the second night of a tough back-to-back, I might be able to see the red-hot Nets sneaking one past them, but Milwaukee has been too good this year for me to doubt them even on the road.

Even so, it should be a great game Monday night nonetheless featuring two of the hottest teams in basketball and a handful of All-Stars facing off.

2/6 – vs Nuggets

How confident are you in the Nuggets holding onto that second seed?

I’m fairly confident that Denver holds onto the second seed at least for the duration of the regular season. Currently, the Nuggets are three games ahead of Oklahoma City in the standings while dealing with injuries. They also lead OKC 2-0 in the head to head matchup and 6-1 to 4-4 in divisional games. That likely means Oklahoma City must finish ahead of Denver, and they are the only team in the NBA with a more difficult strength of schedule. Beyond, OKC, I don’t see any other team challenging Denver for second place.

It seems like Denver has a never-ending parade of quality bench guards. How has that depth helped the team get to where they are?

With as many injuries as the Nuggets have sustained, they have needed a variety of guys to step up. While Juancho Hernangomez and Torrey Craig have had their moments, the two key players for Denver have been Monte Morris and Malik Beasley. Morris has offered a steadying hand to Denver’s backup unit, while Beasley has offered athleticism, a pure jumper, and the best facsimile for Gary Harris possible. Neither Morris nor Beasley have missed a game this year, and the Nuggets have needed every minute they can offer.

Who wins — Nuggets or Nets?

I predict a Nuggets win. Denver has reached a new gear in the last two months, and the first loss to Brooklyn at the buzzer will surely resonate this time around. Brooklyn has no one to match up with Nikola Jokic, who himself is a better player than he was in November. That said, the Nets are a dangerous team, especially for Denver. They make their open shots and generate a ton of those looks. Joe Harris is a player that will make Nuggets fans sweat. Still, going with Denver here.

2/8 – vs Bulls

What do you want to see the Bulls do at the trade deadline?

I would love to see the Bulls go out and make a blockbuster deal to acquire a superstar. Let’s face it, no star free agent is signing in Chicago for a myriad of reasons. So our only hope is via a trade or the NBA lottery. 

At this point in what’s been a rough year, what are you most encouraged by with the Bulls?

Unfortunately, there is not much that Bulls fans, myself included, are excited about when it comes to this season. For me coming into the year, I wanted to see Lauri Markkanen continue to develop, if Wendell Carter Jr. was a solid pick, if Zach LaVine was worth his deal, and if Kris Dunn truly is the PG of the future. The jury is still out, and injuries, their new HC Jim Boylen, and poor front office management have made Bulls fans apathetic towards the team. For the fans that are still watching, most are tuning in to just see what lottery pick we end up with. 

Who wins — Nets or Bulls?

Nets win this one. Spencer Dinwiddie‘s injury hurts, but they have been lights out at home this season.