Today marks the first matchup of the season between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, who clash in a matinee at the Barclays Center this afternoon.
Owners of a three-game losing streak, the Nets enter the game at 13-12, still in second place in the Atlantic Division but in danger of falling to .500 for the first time since they beat Orlando on Nov. 11 to go to 3-2. Brooklyn is coming off a three-day break, however, suiting up for their first game since Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks at MSG, and Avery Johnson says his team is ready to go after the much-needed respite.
“It’s been valuable on a lot of different fronts; the big one is rest, coming out of a series of back-to-back fronts,” Johnson said during his pre-game press conference. “We also got to practice and take a look at how we’re functioning, and our staff got a chance to watch a lot of video, but now it’s back to work.”
The break also gave Johnson a chance to see things in action and make some tweaks, one of which he hopes comes to fruition is more consistency with ball movement and execution.
“I’m anxious (to see what we look like today); that’s part of this whole experiment, and one of the main things is, when you talk about our offense, it was too much one-on-one,” Johnson said. “I don’t mind that at the end of the shot clock, but we’ve been doing it too much, so we’ve taken a look at how we function in those situations, and hope to have a little bit more continuity.”
The Nets have recalled both Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia from the D-League, so they have their full 15 in uniform today, and Johnson was happy with both men’s performance in their line D-League game on Friday.
“I thought it was a good experiment to get them down there, they played a lot of minutes and had some highlights,” Johnson said. “Obviously they made some mistakes, but they did what we sent them down there to do: get some minutes and make plays in our system. Tyshawn ended up with probably a few too many shots, but he did a good job, and Toko did exactly what we needed him to do; he’s a multi-skilled young player, and his line (22 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) showed it.”
Mirza Teletovic and Josh Childress are the team’s inactives today, meaning that Jerry Stackhouse, who has been inactive for the last five games because of a sore knee, will see his first action since Dec. 11 – and Johnson is happy to have one of the sparkplugs of the “Bench Mob” back.
“I think that during the stretch when we won some games, Stackhouse was pretty good for us in his role,” Johnson said. “There were times I had to overuse him because of the lack of production in other places, but he’s feeling pretty good; he had a good practice yesterday, and he’s been doing a lot of shooting. He’s also been good about spending a lot of time with our other guards before practice (to help them) as well.”
As for the Sixers, Philadelphia comes in at 13-14, sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic but mathematically just a game behind the Nets in the standings. Boston, who will be Brooklyn’s opponent on Tuesday, is right in the middle at 13-13, and Johnson knows that these next two games could be very important in the race to break out of the pack.
“We’re kind of all lumped together; the Knicks have a pretty good lead, but it’s nothing that’s insurmountable,” Johnson said. “Everybody has their share of challenges and concerns, and just like us, I’m sure Boston and Philly expected to win a few more games so far, but it hasn’t happened.”
Philadelphia is still without their big offseason acquisition, center Andrew Bynum, who has yet to play this year while battling knee issues, and in his place at the five will be 6-foot-9 Lavoy Allen, who was just re-inserted into the starting lineup on Friday and is averaging 6.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as a starter.
Allen will have his hands full with Brook Lopez down low, but despite the size disadvantage for the Sixers, Johnson knows that his opponent does rely heavily on one facet of the game that has been tough for the Nets to stop at times this year.
“They’ve become a pretty good three-point shooting team, they really look for threes and have a lot of guys who can hit them,” Johnson said. “They’re a quick team, and Thaddeus Young has given us problems since I’ve been here because he’s a tough cover, so I think they’ve decided to spread the floor and play to their strengths.”
Something will have to give for the Nets, who are 5-2 against the Atlantic Division this year (with boss losses to the division-leading Knicks) but are just 1-5 at home in December after a 7-1 November.
“There’s no sense of entitlement, especially with us, because we haven’t won anything yet, and I think we’ve struggles sometimes when we’ve been talked into thinking we’re the favorites because of all our changes,” Johnson said. “The way you become a favorite is by being really consistent. We have to play well, and what other teams respect is consistency.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES