The hottest team in the NBA is Brooklyn bound.
Not them. The Golden State Warriors don’t get here until Sunday. But the Boston Celtics have won 12 straight after an 0-2 start, and after losing prize free agent signing Gordon Hayward for the season on opening night.
The Celtics have been the NBA’s staunchest defensive team so far, leading the league in points allowed (94.0), defensive rating (95.4) and opponent field goal percentage (42.8). Guard Kyrie Irving, obtained from Cleveland over the summer, leads six Celtics scoring in double figures with 20.3 points per game. Center Al Horford averages 15.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists, while young swingmen Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are playing 30-plus minutes per game and scoring in double figures.
“They have a lot of talent,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “They have a lot of athletic talent. And then they have Horford and Irving to steer the ship. That to me, it’s almost a perfect formula. You’ve got two All Star type players, vets, and then you have a young crew that’s learning around them and an established system. It’s a pretty good recipe for success.”
Irving missed Sunday’s game against Toronto after suffering a facial fracture against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. He’s listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game.
The Nets are back at Barclays Center tonight after playing five games in nine days on the road. They went 2-3 on the road to bring a 5-8 overall record back to Brooklyn. The trip ended with a 114-106 loss at Utah on Saturday.
After flying back following the game on Saturday, the Nets returned to HSS Training Center on Monday for a light workout.
“The first games back after a west coast trip are the tricky ones,” said Kenny Atkinson. “We really try to scale back, work really light.”
RUSSELL OUT VS. CELTICS
Guard D’Angelo Russell has been declared out for Tuesday’s game against Boston at Barclays center. The Nets’ leading scorer has been diagnosed with a left knee contusion after leaving Saturday’s game against Utah in the final minutes.
Russell is averaging 20.9 points and 5.7 assists per game, and had 26 against the Jazz before leaving the game. Atkinson said Russell would continue to be evaluated day-by-day with no definitive timetable for a return. Brooklyn’s next game is Friday against the Jazz at Barclays Center.
“He’s playing at a pretty high level,” said Atkinson. “Obviously it’s a blow.”
Spencer Dinwiddie is expected to start. Dinwiddie missed the Utah game on Saturday with a sore hamstring. This will be his third start of the season, and the second time he’s starting in place of an injured Russell. The first time, Dinwiddie scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Nets over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
D’Angelo Russell’s absence could mean a significant role for second-year guard Isaiah Whitehead. Two of Whitehead’s three appearances this season came over the last week during Brooklyn’s western swing. He played 15 minutes at Denver and 12 minutes at Utah.
“I thought in Denver he was good, really good, in that fourth quarter,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “First half against Utah, second quarter, bad shot and then a turnover and he’s got to limit those things. But then the second half came back and really attacked well and I thought played well. We like his competitiveness. If he can defend for us and keep his turnovers down, that’s kind of his role right now.”
Before joining the Nets on the road, Whitehead played in the season opener for the G League Long Island Nets, scoring 26 points with seven rebounds and three assists. Whitehead has been splitting his practice time between Brooklyn and Long Island.
“That’s not easy for guys,” said Atkinson. “Obviously shipping him back and forth, but he’s handled it. It’s a little bit of a humbling thing. Listen a lot of guys have gone through it and it’s really helped them. We think it’s the best for his development process to have to go through this. It’s part of the deal.”
Last season Whitehead played 73 games for Brooklyn with 26 starts, averaging 22.5 minutes per game with 7.4 points and 2.6 assists per game.
“I think confidence is key,” said Whitehead. “Going out there and playing confident. Knowing I belong and knowing that my teammates trust me with the ball. Just go out there and play my game and hopefully the best happens.”
ALLEN ALMOST BACK
Rookie center Jarrett Allen is questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Celtics after missing Brooklyn’s last six games with a left foot strain. Allen traveled with the team during their western swing and returned to practice Monday at HSS Training Center.
“I see myself as a level-headed guy,” said Allen. “I know I’m going to have hopefully a long career. Just a couple games isn’t going to hurt me.”
After an opening night DNP, the 19-year-old quickly claimed a regular spot int he rotation, averaging 15.0 minutes per game over a six-game stretch with single-game highs of nine points, four blocks and four rebounds.