What did the Nets do over the summer?
The Nets have had the highest payroll in the league for the last two seasons, but aside from letting veterans Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston go, they didn't make many major changes to their roster this summer. The biggest change was the drama surrounding the departure of head coach Jason Kidd, who was traded to Milwaukee for two future second round draft picks. Kidd made the switch after he requested and was denied control of the Nets' front office operations, and the Nets are now coached by former Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins.
What have the Nets done lately?
As of December 19, the Nets were in bad shape. They were 10-15 for the season and had just lost their last three games. Since then they've won six of eight and pulled themselves back to within striking distance of a .500 record (they were sitting at .500 until their close loss last night to the Miami Heat). While their recent schedule hasn't been particularly challenging, their wins include snapping a six-game Bulls winning streak in Chicago and victories against the Kings and the Nuggets, two tough if not great Western Conference teams.
So what changed? Hollins has shifted both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to the second unit, bringing them off the bench in favor of Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee in the starting line-up. You can read more about Hollins' decision to switch up the line-ups, but in a nutshell this has provided the Nets with better balance. Both Jack ad Plumlee have been playing well as starters, and Williams (though still struggling with inefficient shooting) seems to have provided some stability to the second unit, which has shown improved play with the former starters on the floor.
What is the biggest match-up to watch?
Both teams will be tired coming off of Sunday games, but it should be interesting to see how Rick Carlisle chooses to counter Brooklyn's new high-powered bench. Deron Williams has stronger on/off court numbers than any of the Mavericks' back-up guards, and Brook Lopez struggled to start the season, but since mid-December has only once shot below 50 percent from the field in a game. Greg Smith (who left yesterday's game with a muscle strain but is expected to play tonight) has looked fine in limited minutes, but this could be a game where Brandan Wright's presence will be missed, as the Mavericks are still a little weak at center when Tyson Chandler rests, while Lopez seems to be finding his rhythm.
Which team stat might determine the game?
The Nets may be looking better, but Brooklyn is still just 23rd in the league in offensive efficiency and 13th in the league on defense. Dallas is still sitting at number one on offense, and their defense has improved since Rajon Rondo's arrival. In short, Dallas is a much better team than even the seemingly improved Nets, and even though they're coming off a Sunday game, no Maverick played more than 30 minutes in an easy win. Anything can happen in a single game, but this will be Brooklyn's biggest challenge since they've started to heat up.
Tune in at 6:30pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest, if for no other reason than to possibly see this happen:
Tune in tomorrow night because Dirk needs 13 to pass Moses for 7th on the all-time scoring list.— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) January 4, 2015