Preview: Nets vs. Suns

The Brooklyn Nets conclude a home-heavy early stretch of their schedule when they host the Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center on Tuesday night. This will be the fifth home game among Brooklyn’s first eight, but with one of the away games being at the New York Knicks last Friday, they’ve only had to hit the road for two dates.

That will change after tonight, as they’ll head west for five games in nine days.

After winning three of their first five games and leading the NBA in scoring after the first week, the Nets have dropped their last two — to the Knicks and Denver Nuggets — while posting their two lowest-scoring games of the season. Their 86-point outing against the Knicks was their only game below 110 points in their first seven.

After shooting 45.9 percent over their first five games, the Nets connected for just 40.6 percent from the field over their last two. That’s with their 3-point percentage jumping from 36.4 through five games to 38.6 over the last two. It’s inside the arc where the Nets are struggling. They’ve made just 46.9 percent of their 2-pointers, down from 56.2.

Coach Kenny Atkinson acknowledged that both the Knicks and Nuggets were a little more aggressive with Nets ball-handlers than previous opponents.

“I thought the Knicks did that. Denver did that,” said Atkinson. “I think there’s a little more pressure on the ball. I think they’re being a little physical with us. Especially our pick and roll offense has not been good the last few games. What teams are doing, they’re really getting into the ball-handler, really pushing. We’ve got to screen better to free our guys up. We have to do a better job in the pick and roll, setting a defense up. We’re coming off and … there’s no advantage. In pick and roll you’re trying to create a 2-on-1 advantage. I felt like the past two games we’re not doing that. Pick and roll offense, it’s five guys participating. I think part of the issue is teams are being more physical and they’re being more into the ball.”

RUSSELL & DINWIDDIE

D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have shared the court for a total of 19 minutes over seven games, and 10.5 of those minutes came in Sunday’s game against Denver. There was an echo of the lineup the Nets opened the season with, when Jeremy Lin and Russell essentially gave the Nets two point guards in the starting lineup.

Dinwiddie and Russell played 6.3 minutes together on opening night, but none in the four games before Sunday night as the pair settled into a rhythm alternating turns on and off the floor at the point following the season-ending injury to Lin.

While a Dinwiddie/Russell pairing in the starting lineup is unlikely due to the need to cover the point guard spot over 48 minutes, it is something the Nets may experiment with a little bit more as they shake out lineups and their rotation.

“I think it’s something we have to look at it,” said coach Kenny Atkinson. “I do like it because I think D’Angelo’s pretty good off the ball. We have to find out that balance where we can get him off the ball. I thought it was interesting. It’s something we can look at going forward.”

At 6-foot-6, Dinwiddie gives the Nets some defensive flexibility when paired with the 6-foot-5 Russell, with the ability to switch off and guard multiple positions. Dinwiddie has also been Brooklyn’s top scorer over the last three games, averaging 16.0 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and overall while notching a pair of career-high, 22-point games.

“It’s great because he can play off the ball,” said Atkinson. “At 6-6, it’s not like we’re talking about a 6-1 guy. Sometimes with Jeremy he was too small, but with Spencer you feel a little more like he can defend 2s and even some 3s. He’s shooting the ball really well. He continues to play like this we’re going to have to find more minutes.”

BIG OFF THE BENCH

Spencer Dinwiddie isn’t the only reason the Nets are leading the NBA in bench scoring at 50.1 points per game. Trevor Booker leads Nets reserves with 11.7 points per game and Allen Crabbe, with two starts in seven games, is averaging 10.6 points per game.

CARROLL QUESTIONABLE

Forward DeMarre Carroll and Quincy Acy missed Sunday’s game against Denver. Carroll is questionable for tonight, while Acy has been declared out. Coach Kenny Atkinson said Acy’s status would be day-to-day after tonight’s game.

ABOUT THE SUNS

After an 0-3 start that resulted in the firing of coach Earl Watson, the Phoenix Suns responded with wins over Sacramento and Utah before falling to Portland, 114-107, on Saturday. Devin Booker leads Phoenix with 20.5 points per game. The Suns are in the bottom third of the league in most offensive categories, including 27th in points with 102.5 points per game. 

The Suns actually rank No. 2 in the NBA behind the Nets in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) but are 28th in the NBA in field goal attempts. Having the third most turnovers in the league (18.3 per game) contributes to that, as does their ability to get to the free throw line. The Suns average 26.7 free throws per game, fifth in the NBA. Both the Nets and Suns are among the top five teams in the NBA in getting to the line and putting opponents on the line.

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