Six games and nine days remain on the Nets schedule before the All-Star break, and Brooklyn begins that journey tonight by welcoming Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to Barclays Center for the first time.
The Nets are coming off a tough four-point win over an injury-depleted Bulls squad on Friday, and once again tonight they will be facing a short-handed squad; Dwight Howard is out for the Lakers with a shoulder injury, while Metta World Peace has been suspended by the NBA for one game for his altercation with Detroit’s Brandon Knight on Sunday.
Brooklyn has lost nine games in a row to the Lakers, but LA is just 8-18 on the road this year while the Nets are 9-1 in their last 10 home games and 18-8 overall at Barclays Center. Those numbers, combined with the Nets’ perfect 17-0 record against sub.-500 teams, add up to appear as advantage Brooklyn – but Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo knows that Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers are always dangerous.
“You still have to match up with the guys who are playing,” Carlesimo said. “But Dwight not playing obviously makes it different at the basket; he impacts the game with his defense more than anybody, and gives them a great post-up look.”
That said, Carlesimo intimated that because the team was prepared to possibly see Howard out of the lineup, it’s World Peace’s absence that is more of a proverbial monkey wrench.
“They’ve been playing a little bit without (Howard) anyhow; World Peace makes a difference because he’s a three-point shooter, he’s an excellent defender, and he’s played a lot of their games this year while Dwight has been in and out,” Carlesimo said. “But, when you start with Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, you can put anyone there and it’s still a good lineup.”
Without two of his three starting forwards, Mike D’Antoni is expected to start Pau Gasol, Earl Clark, and Antawn Jamison up front tonight. Either way, it’s a bit of a different look than the last time the two played just before Thanksgiving in Los Angeles; that was D’Antoni’s first game as Lakers coach, and as Carlesimo himself can attest to, it can take time for a team to gel under a new coach’s system – but the Lakers have done it well.
“They’re playing a lot more efficiently offensively, and Mike probably feels they still have room to get even better, but they’ve been playing well lately, putting points up and shooting the three,” Carlesimo said. “I didn’t see a lot of their games when they were struggling unless they happened to be playing someone we were getting ready to play, but they’ve been playing well of late.”
One other nugget that plays against the Lakers' favor: Kobe Bryant is 18-7 against the Nets in his career, but he has averaged just 22.6 points per game lifetime against the Nets, a mark that is the second-worst scoring average against a single team on his resume.
On the other side, it appears as Brooklyn will have a full 13 on the bench. As of this morning’s shootaround, C.J. Watson (sprained right ankle) was listed as probable, MarShon Brooks (sprained right ankle) was questionable, and both Andray Blatche (illness) and Jerry Stackhouse (stiff neck) were game-time decisions, but Carlesimo was optimistic on all four 90 minutes before game-time.
“(Nets trainer) Tim (Walsh) said they’re available; we’ll see how they warm up and what they look like,” the coach said. “MarShon looked to me to be the least likely this morning, but we’ll see.”
And, in one final non-basketball note, rumors have it that Justin Bieber, who is in town to be the host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live this weekend before embarking on a European tour, will be in attendance tonight.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES