The Nets are back in Brooklyn, returning tonight from a 1-2 West Coast swing to take on the 8-3 Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center.
As it will be every time these two teams play in the near future, a big pre-game focus is the battle between point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Drafted third and fourth respectively in the 2005 NBA Draft, D-Will vs. CP3 is a matchup that Nets coach Avery Johnson has said he would “pay to see.”
However, another thing that should be a big focus for Johnson is the Clippers’ bench, as STAPLES Center’s junior tenant is one of the deepest teams in the league; both of their top backcourt bench options, Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, average double-digit points per game, and L.A. also has a strong reserve front line with Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes on the wing and Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins providing a presence in the paint. Brooklyn’s second unit is outscoring its opponents’ benches by nearly 10 points per game this season (and held the Lakers’ reserves to just 10 points on Tuesday), but the Clippers reserves will be perhaps the biggest test so far for the “Bench Mob.”
“This is a very deep basketball team,” Avery Johnson said of the Clippers in his pre-game press conference. “Their starting lineup is good, but you add a guy who could right now be the sixth man of the year in Jamal Crawford, the way he’s playing off the bench … Ryan Hollins is a good energy guy, and if Caron Butler starts, then Barnes comes off the bench and he’s a quality pro … I think they’ve added a lot of the right pieces, and they’ve done a really nice job with their roster.”
Brooklyn will have Gerald Wallace, who sat out the final game of the West Coast swing to rest his still-sore ankle back in the starting lineup, and Jerry Stackhouse, who flourished in the rotation in Wallace’s absence but also had Wednesday off to rest, active again tonight, with rookies Tornike Shengelia and Mirza Teletovic inactive.
“As we planned it, Stackhouse was supposed that mostly inactive guy, player/coach…but he’s been giving us some quality minutes, so we’ve tinkered a little bit with the inactive list,” Johnson said. “We talked about it as a staff, and we like Gerald at the four sometimes against smaller lineups, so we feel like (activating Stackhouse over Teletovic) made the most sense.”
Wallace starts at the 3 of course, but he likely won’t know who he’s matched up against until tip-off; Clippers starting small forward Caron Butler (strained right shoulder) is still a game-time decision according to coach Vinny Del Negro, and if the UConn product can’t go, he’ll once again be replaced in the starting lineup by Barnes.
Other statistical notes of interest for tonight’s game:
-The Nets are 4-1 at Barclays Center this season and are averaging just over 100 points per game at home. They’re also 4-1 in their last five against the Clippers and have been victorious against them each of the last four times they’ve scored 100 points or more – all numbers that bode well, at least on paper, for a strong performance tonight.
-There is a lot of familiarity with the two teams, both here and elsewhere. Reggie Evans played for the Clippers in 2012, Josh Childress and injured Clipper Grant Hill both played for Phoenix the last two seasons, and the two coaches, Avery Johnson and Vinny Del Negro, were teammates in San Antonio for six seasons in the 1990s.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES