Tonight the Grizzlies return to Memphis after a four-game road trip to take on the Brooklyn Nets. Back in January, when these teams last met, the Grizzlies prevailed 118-104 over the Nets. Memphis’s win over Brooklyn came in the middle of their 11-game win streak. The Nets had a similar streak later that month, but instead of 11 straight victories, they suffered 11 consecutive losses.
While Kevin Durant was out with a sprained MCL, the Nets were 5-15. For the season, they are 8-19 without KD. Kyrie Irving has not even played 20 games but he has been spectacular when on the court. He is averaging 27.7 points and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc.
To preview this game, I hear from Chris Milholen, a staff writer for NetsDaily — SB Nation’s Brooklyn Nets blog — to discuss tonight’s nationally televised matchup.
1) The Grizzlies have won the last five games between these two squads. How can the Nets end this streak tonight?
While the Grizzlies have won the last handful against the Nets, this upcoming matchup will be played in Memphis, which means Kyrie Irving will be available. That will easily provide a must-needed scoring boost but with Andre Drummond's (non-covid illness) status pending, frontcourt defense will be a key factor in this game against the Grizzlies.
2) Kyrie Irving has only played in 19 games this season due to a New York vaccine mandate prohibiting him from playing home games. How has Steve Nash been able to balance lineups with Irving in and out of the rotation?
The Nets have done the best they could with Kyrie Irving being a part-time player. While Brooklyn’s home record hasn’t been stellar, it has put a burden on other key backcourt players such as Patty Mills, whose production shooting the ball has dipped. Steve Nash has credited Mills’ heavy load (the most minutes played in a season in his NBA career) really putting some heavy legs on him. Goran Dragic has provided a great need of ball-handing and a veteran presence as well. His addition, which I call Irving insurance, has paid off thus far.
3) Kevin Durant has averaged 30 points, 7.3 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game since returning from injury on March 3. Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. are two defenders that offer versatility and could present trouble for Durant. What will it take for the Grizzlies to contain KD?
Multiple teams have thrown double-teams even blitzing a third defender) at Kevin Durant over these last few games. While doing such a defensive strategy has the opposing team living or dying by open looks from role players such as Kessler Edwards, Patty Mills, other perimeter shooters, and Bruce Brown — who has benefited the most — that is a strategy I can easily see the Grizzlies taking. But due to Kyrie Irving being available, I wouldn’t expect many double-teams on KD.
4) Brooklyn is 8-8 since dealing James Harden at the trade deadline. What have Seth Curry and Andre Drummond brought to the Nets since the deal?
Seth Curry and Andre Drummond have plugged multiple holes on both ends of the floor. Curry provides yet more shooting to a team filled with perimeter weapons and is a perfect addition considering Joe Harris, the team’s best 3-point shooter, is shut down for the remainder of the season. The guard has proven to be a lethal scoring weapon in the offense, especially being paired with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Andre Drummond has finally given the Nets a great rounder and screener — something Brooklyn has been missing since Brook Lopez and Jarrett Allen (to an extent). Drummond can also protect the rim, but most importantly, his elite rebounding provides second-chance scoring opportunities and helps patch opposing teams from pushing into early offense situations.
5) The Nets are the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and almost surely will participate in the play-in tournament. Yet, Brooklyn still has the second-best odds to win the NBA Title, per DraftKings. What are your expectations for the Nets this postseason?
I do expect Brooklyn to be in the play-in tournament. Their best hope is for Cleveland to slide into the tournament. If the team plays Toronto, Kyrie Irving is ineligible for either contest. I do expect Brooklyn to make it out of the play-in tournament regardless but don’t see them getting past the Milwaukee Bucks if their paths cross in the Eastern Conference playoffs if Irving is still a part-time player.