Tipoff: 7:30 PM
The Bobcats head to Brooklyn to face the Nets tonight, in the second match of a five-game stretch during which the Bobcats will play teams on the inside of the playoff bubble. The Nets currently have a 2.5-game lead over the Bobcats for the sixth playoff seed, so if you're looking ahead in the standings to see what each game means to the playoff race, this is a really important game for both teams.
After a short stretch of strong play that saw the Bobcats win five of six games, they struggled in their last two, not pulling away from the Bucks until late in the fourth quarter, and having a dreadful second half Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Going on the road tonight against a team playing their best basketball of the year -- the Nets are 8-2 in their last ten games -- will be a tough task for the Bobcats, currently in the middle of another rough patch in the schedule. These two teams have met twice before this season, with the home team winning each game.
The Nets have been slowly climbing up the standings in the past month, with a 10-4 record since February 19. Despite Brook Lopez requiring season-ending surgery and Kevin Garnett's nagging injuries that have kept him out since February 28 (and will force him to miss tonight's game), they have turned around their play around thanks to the improvement of role players such as Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, and Mason Plumlee. Although the Nets are known more for their stars, starters such as Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and Joe Johnson, they are far from the players they were during their primes, which makes the second unit all the more important for Brooklyn.
Without the defensive presence of Kevin Garnett, you may be wondering how head coach Jason Kidd will plan around Al Jefferson, who was held to only 12 points on 5-13 shooting during the Bobcats' last visit to the Barclays Center. This assignment, which, as we've seen, is not easy, will likely fall to Blatche, whose defensive play is much better now than it was during his time with the Wizards. We could see more minutes than usual for Jason Collins, who was brought to the Nets almost exclusively for Garnett insurance, to handle tough post matchups, and his ultra-physical style of play could cause issues for Jefferson.
The Nets' defense -- which ranks only 16th in terms of efficiency -- is built around their ability to get turnovers, which doesn't match well with the Bobcats' ability to keep the ball in their own hands. The Nets also struggle mightily with rebounding, whereas the Bobcats rank among the best teams in the league in cleaning up the defensive glass. The Nets still have a fairly significant advantage in terms of pure talent, especially in the bench units, but the two teams' styles of play show where the Bobcats are going to have to succeed in order to win a tough road game against a team playing very well.