Inside Look: Nets seek redemption in Memphis

Brooklyn travels to Memphis on Friday and the two teams will face off adjacent to world famous Beale Streat. The Nets own a record of 18-21 and are currently in the 9th slot in the East. They have the 11th best offense in the league and rank 23rd in defense. They are a top five team in both 3PA and 3PM. This doesn’t bode well for Memphis as they have struggled recently with their perimeter defense, which has given up 16+ threes in their last three matchups.

For Brooklyn, Allen Crabbe (knee), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (right adductor strain), and Caris LeVert (right foot dislocation) will all miss the game.

The Nets have won 7 of their last 10 games. Meanwhile the Grizzlies are on a 3 game skid and have lost 8 of their last 10.

This is Memphis’ first game since trading away MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and a pair of picks for Justin Holiday.

To help us get an insider’s perspective on the matchup, I reached out to @Ben__Nadeau of @TheBKGame  to help answer this week’s burning questions.

How big was signing Spencer Dinwiddie to a contract extension? What has he meant to this team and what does he bring to the court on a nightly basis?

Both on and off the court, Spencer Dinwiddie means a considerable amount to this Nets side. From the front office perspective, it’s a signifier to players across the league. Sure, the new regime had found small successes along the way, like Yogi Ferrell and Sean Kilpatrick, but Dinwiddie proves that players can come to Brooklyn, have space to improve, and then, most importantly, get paid. Joe Harris, naturally, falls under this same umbrella.

But for the team, it’s even bigger. He might not be the starter, but it doesn’t matter. Dinwiddie has been the Nets’ most consistent player for almost two seasons now, in whatever role he’s employed in. Dinwiddie is awfully unafraid of the big moment and the rest of his young team have really embraced that mantra in 2018-19 so far as well, I think. Of course, there’s still the D’Angelo Russell issue to decide upon now — but after years of losing and rebuilding, letting Dinwiddie — their leader and greatest success story — walk away for nothing would’ve been a major misstep.

Do you see D’Angelo Russell as the future PG of the Nets? Is there a big push to keep him in Brooklyn?

Ultimately, yes. Russell has shown some flashes of absolute brilliance this year — as he seems to do every season, actually. When he’s on a heater, the Nets are one of the league’s most exciting teams, I truly believe that. Issue being, that’s not always the version that shows up and he’s often even stuck on the bench during the fourth, left to watch Dinwiddie show out time and time again. Still, he doesn’t turn 23 years-old until next month and the Nets should really consider matching just about everything come July unless somebody tosses out an Otto Porter Jr.-level max at him. (Whoops, Sean Marks says sorry for that one, Washington!)

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The fanbase appears to be pretty divided over the two guards, but why not both? Anybody pretending that the Nets will actually be serious players in the Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant decisions this upcoming offseason would seem to be misguided, at least from this vantage point. Cap space is the thing that every franchise chases after, but it’s really a two-part issue because you then have to use it wisely. Is there a better option out there that involves letting your young, growing asset leave for nothing? Maybe. Perhaps even probably. But I wouldn’t roll the dice on that.

The Nets have had an up and down season, including an 8 game losing streak and a 7 game winning streak. When the Nets are winning, what things are they doing well and likewise what is hurting them the most when they are losing?

Like most teams in 2019, the Nets win when they shoot the three-ball well. They’re good when they get strong, early minutes from Russell — like first quarter early. If he struggles, the Nets are in for a slugfest. But if Russell starts hot, the Nets usually follow suit. Dinwiddie is good for at least 15-plus points off the bench and Harris has been a cold-blooded killer as of late too. When they lose, it’s often because of avoidable turnovers or simply being outgunned. The Nets undoubtedly blew that game to Oklahoma City last month, but on the same note: If a guy like Paul George drops 25 points in the fourth on your head, Brooklyn doesn’t really have an answer for that just yet.

It’s strange though, and I something I can’t fully explain. Those aforementioned players have filled those respective roles all season, but it worked especially well with Caris LeVert leading the way. Without him, they immediately went on that big losing streak. By now, then, they’ve figured out how to play in LeVert’s absence, all without expecting or demanding too much out of the others. There’s an awfully long way to go from here, but it does feel like they’ve turned the corner in some ways.

The Nets may not measure up in skill most nights, but they’re a determined bunch and a group that knows how to play within their defined roles. In the East, it turns out, that gets you pretty far.

Who are some role players that have made an impact this season that we should know about?

This one is easy, his name has been plastered everywhere as late, but most prominently on most rookie ladders across the internet: Rodions Kurucs. Everybody expected Dzanan Musa to be the Nets’ best rookie but Kurucs has just been a jolt of fresh air — who saw this one coming? Not only did the Nets’ win streak coincide with him joining the starting lineup, but he’s just an absolute joy to watch. He crashes the boards, plays pesky defense and drives to the hoop at an aggressive clip. Kurucs won’t win Rookie of the Year, obviously, but he’s been key to the turnaround.

But other than his unexpected arrival, there haven’t been too many surprises on the impactful role player front. Harris is one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters (48.9 percent), Ed Davis still gobbles up rebounds like it’s his last night on Earth, and DeMarre Carroll brings some of that much-needed veteran edge to the floor — so those guys, I suppose. Although up-and-down, Jared Dudley, of all people, had a few moments in the sun during December, hitting big buckets, but help us all if he ends up on Jaren Jackson Jr.

Which individual matchups are you most looking forward to?

Jarrett Allen vs. Marc Gasol. Allen can struggle at times with the bulky, experienced centers, but he’s been creating quite the block list thus far. This year, he’s already rejected Blake Griffin, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo on dunk attempts, then went ahead and stuffed Anthony Davis twice on Wednesday. Beyond that, definitely Russell vs. Mike Conley and Kurucs vs. Jackson Jr. Russell’s defense has improved of late and the crafty Conley will continue to test him; elsewhere, who doesn’t want to see some rookie-on-rookie action? We could feasibly see both of these players end the year with rookie honors, so it’ll be fun to see them face off for a couple of possessions here and there.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have since traded MarShon Brooks to Chicago, so I had to delete my 1,000-word portion on Dinwiddie vs. Brooks.

The last time these two teams faced off, it was a double OT thriller and with the pace that both of these teams play (bottom third in the NBA) we could have another close game on our hands. How does Brooklyn beat the Grizzlies, and also, how do they lose to them?

I’ve got to be honest, it’s been a minute since I checked in on the pace rankings — I assumed you mistyped, but nope, there the Nets are at No. 22. Anyway, Brooklyn found every certifiably insane way to give away the game the last time they played Memphis — for everybody’s sake, let’s hope they don’t go down that road again. If I recall correctly, it was a particularly ugly game, which, somehow, the Nets are well-equipped to win these days.

I’m most interested in seeing how those matchups play out, truthfully. Heading into Friday, opponents were shooting 36.2 percent from three-point range against the Grizzlies, the seventh-highest mark in the NBA. The Nets themselves make 12.3 three-pointers per game at a 36.4 percent clip — so, as usual, this is probably the line to watch out for. If the Grizzlies defend the three-point line well, they could very well win. If the Nets hit from deep at the same 16-for-31 rate they did against the Pelicans, it might be their game to lose. What is most likely going to happen, however, is that Gasol will go off for 30-plus points and Dinwiddie will lead a heroic late-game comeback that ends up just short.


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Feature Image [ Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images ]

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