Brian ErniMonday night, the Nets kick off a three game homestand at the Barclays Center. First up: the upstart Phoenix Suns.
The young Suns have to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2013-14 NBA season. At 10 games over .500, Phoenix trails Memphis by just a single game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their 38-28 mark is also good for third in the traditionally-tough Pacific division. They trail Golden State (who currently own the West’s six seed) by only three games, and are nine games behind the Clippers. Spurring this Suns team is offense, offense, and more offense. At 95.6, they play the sixth best pace in the NBA, and they have a top 10 offensive rating (109.5, good for eighth in the league). In their four March contests, Phoenix has tallied a ridiculous 109.3 points per game, and that performance is not just a product of small sample size. The played to 106.3 mark in December and were a point better than that in January.
The Suns have quite a few threats from deep. Goran Dragic is shooting 41.8% from downtown, and is hitting at 50.9% from the field overall. P.J. Tucker (39.9%), Marcus Morris (39.4%), and Channing Frye (38.9%) are also dangerous, shooting just under that 40% mark from long range. And don’t forget Miles Plumlee on the inside — brother of Nets center Mason — who has started 63 games this year and turned in 3.1 win shares thus far (2.3 of which are defensive win shares). Capable of wearing their teams down from all angles, the Suns pose a very real threat to start out Brooklyn’s pivotal home stretch.
Meanwhile, the Nets are coming off a disappointing loss in Washington, and need a bounce back effort in the worst way. A week that started very strong with three wins in four days was capped off by a fourth quarter collapse, and it has the Nets a full game back of the fifth spot. Brooklyn will be without Kevin Garnett for the ninth consecutive game, but they are 6-2 in that stretch without their starting center. Mason Plumlee will start again, and will take the opening tip against his older brother.
Key Match Up: Mason vs. Miles Plumlee. It has to be. The storyline is writes itself. A mere 18 months separates these two, and they’ll get a chance to bring the sibling rivalry to the Barclays Center floor in a match up that means a ton to both teams. Will Miles be able to limit the monster slams his younger brother is prone to throwing down? Will Mason, who has stepped up his D considerably in the second half of the season, out-defend his brother? Time will tell.
Player to Watch: Joe Johnson. Johnson has been producing, but — with Paul Pierce’s performance the last few contests — had done so rather quietly. Saturday in Washington, he showed signs of that take over game we saw back in January, where he scored 20+ points in five of six games from January 6 – 20. Can Johnson re-establish his hot hand, as the Nets take the turn down the stretch?