The Bucks have somehow beaten the Nets 13 straight times overall, including twice already this season, and there's a good chance Larry Sanders is back in the starting lineup for the first time in three weeks. The bad news? At 31-22, Brooklyn has no business getting swept by the Bucks and is getting healthy themselves, with Deron Williams expected back as well.
Nets update. Brooklyn won its last two games heading into the all-star break sans Deron Williams (ankle inflammation), who returned to practice yesterday and is listed as probable for tonight's game. That makes it likely the Nets will be at full strength for the first time in three games against Milwaukee this season: all-star Brook Lopez missed the Bucks' 97-88 win in Brooklyn on December 9, while Williams missed the Bucks' 108-93 win in Milwaukee two weeks later. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis also scored a combined 96 points in those two games, so either the Nets' perimeter defense is that bad or the Bucks' backcourt is due for one of those 12/38 type shooting games (let's hope the former and think happy thoughts, eh?).
Williams had been struggling before deciding to rest his ailing ankles, shooting just 38% and posting just 14.6 ppg and 5.8 apg in five games in February. And speaking of struggling, Gerald Wallace--he of the four year, $40 million contract--couldn't even manage three rebounds per game in January (2.9 rpg in 25 mpg).
Interims. Both the Nets and Bucks fired their head coaches less than halfway through the season, and both teams had .500 records when Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles were dismissed. But while the Bucks have managed a more-of-the-same 10-9 record since Jim Boylan succeeded Skiles, P.J. Carlesimo has presided over a much-improved Nets team that has won 17 of 25 games under the former Blazers, Warriors and Sonics head coach.
Babbling Brook. Thankfully for Brooklyn, not all of the monster deals they handed out last summer have been duds. Since signing a max deal before the season, Brook Lopez has managed to stay mostly healthy and has taken his game to new heights as well. The 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft leads the Nets with career-high makrs in PER (24.7), win shares/48 (.183), and true shooting percentage (.566).
The key has been Lopez's effectiveness around the basket. Though he's converting a career-low 32% of his long twos, Lopez is also hitting a career-high 73% at the rim while substantially upping his attempts at the basket compared to the last two seasons. He's also rebounding at a rate vaguely commensurate with a man his size, all of which means he's giving the disappointing Dwight Howard a good run for the title of best center in the league.
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