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Utah Jazz @ Brooklyn Nets
Utah Jazz: 110.5 Points, -140 ML, Brooklyn Nets: 107.5 Points, +120 ML
The Brooklyn Nets have made the best of the 27th easiest schedule in the league so far, hovering around .500 despite persistent injury problems.
The schedule gets harder now, but thankfully they will embrace the challenge with two of their best guards returning to the court. Nets SG Caris LeVert is back after undergoing thumb surgery in November. And PG Kyrie Irving has returned to action after a nagging shoulder issue threatened to end his season.
Kyrie is averaging a career-high 28 points per game this year in 12 contests, but the Nets are just 5-7 with him on the court. While most of that poor record is directly attributable to some tough competition they’ve played, the question persists just how good is Kyrie if his statistics don’t translate to his teams winning and ultimately advancing in the playoffs. Tonight is a great test for him and the team vs. a playoff-caliber Western Conference opponent. I think they appreciate this opportunity, and I think they step up in a big way.
Dinwiddie Not a 6th Man Anymore
I loved what the Nets did in Irving’s first game back: they kept fellow PG Spencer Dinwiddie in the starting lineup. While practically the choice doesn’t make a ton of difference in the game – Dinwiddie and Irving both starter-like minutes anyway. But the symbol of Dinwiddie starting the game with Irving illustrates the kind of team that the Nets would like to become. Namely, not “your turn, my turn” team, but a dynamic uptempo squad with multiple options.
By way of comparison, the Clippers clearly have two modes. They have their stifling starting 5, which boasts 2 All-Star shut-down defenders at the wing positions. And their speedy second-stringers, lead by Lou Williams. The Clippers score 5% more points in the 2nd quarter compared to the first, as their tempo increases and their superior bench overruns the competition.
The Nets aren’t built like that. They don’t have enough talent to leave some in the reserve. If Dinwiddie, Irving, and the Nets are to reach their potential this season – a long shot Conference finalist – they will need to form a Clyde Frazier/Earl Monroe type kinship. Either of them can do it all: handle, penetrate, spot-up, run the offense. Their advantage will be in their flexibility, attacking whichever guard has the edge over his defender on a given possession.
The very early returns on their new set up were extremely good. The Nets boat raced the Hawks in their first game with Irving and Lavert back in the lineup, with Irving knocking down a career-best 10 of 11 shots.
Unlike the Nets, The Jazz are Still Without their Shiny New PG
I’m optimistic about the Nets chances to keep that positive momentum going tonight against a hot Jazz team. The Jazz are 14-4 when they play without their new PG Mike Conley, who is still out with a nagging hamstring injury. Without Conley, they’ve been able to utilize Donovan Mitchell more at point guard, and give Joe Ingles more minutes. While their chemistry has been better without him in the short term, I think their ceiling is limited with only one elite ball hander in the lineup. I think this limitation catches up with them tonight in the second game of their road trip. The Nets guards will outgun Mitchell & company.
Angle: Take the Nets +3, available at FanDuel. Things might get a little awkward if the Jazz win every single game that Conley is out. They can afford to drop one. Conversely, Irving & the Nets have their best opportunity of the season to earn a signature win against a top team.