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One more before the break: Nets in Cleveland

UGH. The Nets were so close to pulling off a road victory in Toronto. Like, SO close. Going down to the wire against a team like Toronto is fun and an accomplishment in its own right, but we’re at the point where the Nets should be expected to win some of the games they’re in late.

They did a bit of that during their winning streak, So, it’s no longer fun just to be at the party. That being said, the Nets shouldn’t beat themselves up too much over the loss, there were some major positives that we’ll get to in a minute.

The Nets have just one more game before the All-Star break. They’ll head to Cleveland to face the Cavs before going either on vacation or hanging out at home or being shipped off to Charlotte to compete in the various All-Star Festivities. D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, and Rodions Kurucs will all make appearances in some event or another. Anyway, the Cavaliers are bad and are the owners of a 12-45 record. In their last game Cleveland “lost” in the Tankathon Bowl against the Knicks, meaning they won the game and the Knicks dropped even further in the standings. Should be a “W” heading into the break. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:00 pm, ET.

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie (thumb) and Jared Dudley (hamstring) are out. And so is Rodions Kurucs (left elbow sprain). Kurucs was a late scratch. No details yet.

DeMarre Carroll (knee) missed the Toronto game, but he’ll be back for this one. No word on how many of the Nets G League contingent will be available. They don’t have a Long Island game until February 21.

Kevin Love, we found out this afternoon, won’t be in uniform.

John Henson (wrist) and Tristan Thompson (foot) are out, too, while Cedi Osman (ankle) and Ante Zizic are also dealing with injuries and could miss this one.

The Game

Do I want the Nets to trade Allen Crabbe in order to open up multiple max-contract slots for this summer, even if they aren’t necessarily used on max contracts but instead used to re-sign D’Angelo and build the team with even more flexibility? Yes, so much so that I think it is absolutely worth parting with a first round pick in order to get it done.

But do I also love when Crabbe is hitting shots from deep, opening up both the Nets offense and also Ian Eagles call creativity? Hell yes.

It was sort of a trope early in the season, before Crabbe’s injury, that he and Joe Harris could never get it going on the same night. Similarly to DLo and Dinwiddie, it always seemed like it was either going to be one or the other. If Harris and Crabbe can both be on at the same time even just once or twice a week for the rest of the season, it will make games against teams like the Raptors winnable and games against teams like the Cavaliers easy.

And yes, they were both”on” in Toronto, combining for 46 points on 13-of-18 from deep. That’s 72 percent.

The Cavs, who ranks near the bottom of the league in a bevy of categories, and are dead last in Defensive Rating, Net Rating, Player Impact Estimate, Plus/Minus, and Opponent Turnovers. They also score just 102.3 points per game, second worst in the league in front of only Memphis.

The Cavs best players this season have been Jordan Clarkson who’s scoring a career high 16.8 points per game; Collin Sexton who is scoring 14.9 with three assists and may or may not be able to be a starting caliber point guard in the NBA, and I guess Cedi Osman (?) who’s like fun and can do some things? It’s not a great group to choose from.

Kevin Love has made a couple of sporadic appearances, playing in two of Cleveland’s last three games. Now he’s out again. Getting him back would have been nice, but the league-wide rhetoric surrounding him has been confusing to say the absolute least. Cleveland locked him up to a 5-year $113 million contract that even at the time left me scratching my head. This team was clearly going to be bad in the post-LeBron era and Kevin Love, even prime Kevin Love, wasn’t going to fix that. What confuses me even more now is how people seems to think he’s a trade chip for this team in some capacity. Even before the injury that contract felt untouchable, but now he’s missed significant time, he’s over 30, and he’ll be making $28.9 million when he’s 34. No thanks!

Back to Brooklyn, seeing Caris LeVert play crunch-time minutes in Toronto was more than encouraging. He was holding his own and even if he wasn’t being called upon to make big shots at the end of the game, he didn’t look or feel out of place or overwhelmed. It was his second game back. If anyone is going to keep defying our expectation for a player coming back from a rough injury, it’s Caris LeVert. BREAKOUT!

D’Angelo Russell had one of the best games of his career in Toronto and showed everyone why he’s deserving of that All-Star spot. 28 points, 7 rebounds, 14 assists, and if he had hit that last second three it would’ve cemented it as an All-Time Brooklyn Net performance. It’s rare we see games that have that sort of extra special quality, and watching D’Angelo keep his team in the game against one of the best squads in the league was awesome. He’s so much more potent when surrounded by shooters like Crabbe and Harris and playing with a dangerous secondary ball handler and playmaker like Caris. Cannot wait until this team is healthy.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at these passes!

Player To Watch

Larry Nance Jr., who arrived in Cleveland following last years deadline flurry, can still get up and throw down a thunderous dunk every once in a while. He’s athletic, talented, and probably on the wrong team. Someone like Kenny Atkinson could set Nance up to succeed in the Nets spread pick and roll offense, where he’d either get good looks at the rim or hit an occasional three, which he can do with surprising efficiency. He’s shooting 35 percent from deep on 1.1 attempts per game. He’s on a fairly team-friendly deal which will pay him around $10 million a year through the 2022-2023 season. At 26 years old, he’s a prime candidate for the Cavs to flip at some point for some younger future assets.

From The Vault

I feel like, at least for me, it’s harder to keep up with what’s going on in the Western Conference than the Eastern Conference. Later games, we don’t see them as much, etc. But Paul George is having a special season in OKC. Really remarkable considering the trajectory of his career culminating in his decision to not go to the Lakers. Good for him.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Fear the Sword, our Cavaliers sister site on SB Nation.

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