Nets vs. Bucks Preview | Old (and improved) Nets roll into Milwaukee on Junior Bridgeman bobblehead night

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Season
Mil_medium
(11-46, 6-23 home)
vs.
Bn
(27-29, 11-18 road)
March 1, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Brooklyn, NY
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Deron Williams
Nate Wolters SG Shaun Livingston
Khris Middleton SF Joe Johnson
Ersan Ilyasova PF Paul Pierce
Zaza Pachuiia C Kevin Garnett Mason Plumlee
2013/14 Advanced Stats
91.9 (25th) Pace 91.8 (26th)
100.3(29th) ORtg 105.0 (20th)
109.3 (29th) DRtg 107.6 (20th)

On the Nets: Nets Daily | The Brooklyn Game

UPDATE: KG is out tonight with back spasms, meaning rookie Mason Plumlee will start.

When these teams last met in late December, Brooklyn was trying to pick up the pieces from a nightmarish 9-19 start. Franchise center Brook Lopez had been lost to yet another season-ending foot injury, veteran assistant Lawrence Frank had been demoted after reported clashes with rookie coach Jason Kidd, Deron Williams didn't look much like Deron Williams and everyone was trying to figure out if there was any way to salvage Mikhail Prokhorov's aging, ineffective $200 million roster.

But it appears the Nets' win over the Bucks in Brooklyn on December 27 marked the inflection point of Brooklyn's season. The 104-93 win snapped a four-game losing streak, and since then the Nets have gone 18-10 to catapult themselves into the middle of the East pack, including 3-3 on the seven-game road trip that ends tonight in Milwaukee.

The Nets were last seen blowing out the Nuggets in Denver 112-89, riding a ridiculous 29-8 first quarter to an impressively easy road win. Up big from the outset, Jason Kidd was able to give 8+ minutes to all 13 guys: Paul Pierce led a balanced attack with 18 points on 12 shots, with ten other guys scoring between 6 and 10 points each. Only Kevin Garnett (4 pts in 12 min) and Jason Collins (3 in 8) didn't manage at least six points.

Turning it around. So what's going right for the Nets? Well, they're much smaller without Lopez, but they're getting away with going small and slow, including a smallball starting lineup featuring Pierce at PF and KG in the middle. They don't rebound on either end (25th OReb%, 28th DReb% since 12/27 via NBA.com/stats), but they've managed to outscore opponents by ranking 15th offensively and 11th defensively over the past 28 games--a notable improvement considering they were 20th and 29th, respectively on 12/27.

Looking at their four factor metrics, they really only standout in one respect: forcing turnovers. They've led the league in opponent turnover rate over the past 28 games, and along with a bit of luck (their Pythagorean record is 23-33) it's been enough to propel them to the sixth seed in the East and a potential first round date with the Raptors. That's right, if you finish sixth in the East you get to play the third-seeded Raptors! God bless the East.

Smalls can ball. The Williams/Livingston/Joe Johnson/Pierce/KG lineup has been a major part of the Nets' improvement, outscoring opponents by a whopping 15.9 pts/100 possessions in 122 minute together.

Junior's night. Fresh off Glenn Robinson's appearance a week ago, the Bucks are keeping the nostalgia going over the next few days with a pair of returning stars whose names hang in the rafters. The inimitable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in town on Monday, but first it's Junior Bridgeman's turn tonight.

Of course, the intriguing part is not what Bridgeman once did in Milwaukee, but what he may do in the future. The owner of over 200 Wendy's and Chili's franchises, Bridgeman is next-level rich (an estimated net worth in excess of $200 million), he's got long-standing ties to Milwaukee (Bucks' leader in games played) and tonight is his bobblehead night. You thinking what I'm thinking?

Though he's previously worked on bringing a team to his adopted hometown of Louisville (they've already got a new building), Bridgeman has already been sounded out and expressed interest in helping keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. He's not wealthy enough to buy the Bucks outright, but that's OK--he's still in another class of rich from, say, Caron Butler. Stay tuned.

Knight's tale. Coming off a 23-point outing in Indiana, Brandon Knight will look to keep his hot streak going against Williams and Livingston tonight. He averaged nearly 22 points and 7 assists in February, but Knight's development isn't just a one-month thing. Check out his numbers since mid-December (via NBA.com/stats):

We can debate whether Knight has the combination of scoring, playmaking and leadership necessary to one day make the Bucks contenders, but for now the 22-year-old is a clear bright spot on a team that desperately needs some shine. Whether you're a Knight supporter or skeptic, his value has clearly appreciated significantly since last summer's trade that brought Knight and Khris Middleton to Milwaukee for Brandon Jennings, giving the Bucks an interesting decision this summer. Should they actually consider giving Knight an extension ahead of the deadline next October 31? After one good season on a bad Bucks team, how much is he even worth? Or would it be safer for the Bucks to try to move Knight for a pick or another young asset right when his value is peaking?

Henson. A forgettable night in Indiana--0/4 shooting, 0/2 from the line--capped off a rather forgettable month of February for John Henson. Though he still shot 51.5% from the field, Henson was in and out of the lineup with injuries and saw his scoring dip to 8.9 ppg despite playing 28 mpg (above his season average). He's generally looked just out of it of late; more passive defensively and completely unable to hit a free throw (1/14 last month). Perhaps it's just residual rust and a lack of timing following a couple of foot/ankle injuries, but either way it's not how you want to see him finishing up his second year.

Linkage:

SB Nation | Caron Butler to sign with Thunder
Good luck in OKC, Caron.

Sporting News | Deveney: Greek Freaks everywhere! Prepare for the NBA's Antetokounmpo-ization
Sean Deveney looks at the Greek invasion hitting the NBA ovrthe next decade.

Deadspin | NBA Team's Season, In One Chart
Houston Rockets analyst Ed Kupfer shows the progression of each team's offensive and defensive efficiency rankings over the course of the season. Not surprisingly it ain't pretty for the Bucks.

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