Nets at Knicks (7pm ET Friday, ESPN)
Break up the Nets! After starting the season 0-7, the Brooklyn Nets have since gone 5-6, and came within a 3-pointer of two more victories. Most recently, the Nets beat Phoenix 94-91 for their fourth straight home win. Brook Lopez continues to be the Nets' go-to guy, averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a game. On the defensive end, rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been making a big contribution in limited minutes, ranking in the top 5 in steals per opponent possession and defensive plus/minus. Despite starting 12 of the Nets’ 17 games, he’s averaging just 22 minutes, and not doing much offensively, with just 5.1 points and 1.5 assists.
The New York Knickerbockers had been cruising along nicely, with an 8-6 start and one of the league’s best rookies in Kristaps Porznigis. Since then, however, they’ve gone 1-4, having stopped the slide with a 99-87 win over the 76ers. Since being viciously booed on draft day, Porzingis has been so good that he’s got people scrambling to come up with a nickname to spare themselves having to learn how to spell and pronounce Kristaps Porzingis. He’s top-10 in total rebounds and blocks, and despite his willowy 7-3 frame, has dished out 58 personal fouls, 7th-most in the NBA.
Cavaliers vs. Pelicans (9:30pm ET Friday, ESPN)
Cleveland is 13-5 following Wednesday’s 97-85 loss to the Wizards, whose small-ball lineup was too much for the Cavaliers, as Washington guard John Wall dropped 35. It was Cleveland’s second loss in four games, but they remain atop the East, with the Pacers nipping at their heels. The Cavs got some good news Thursday, as Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert both participated in full-court, full-contact, five-on-five practice. Though there’s no definitive timetable for their return, Irving is clearly champing at the bit, saying, “When we get back we call ourselves the Hardy Brothers. We’re coming full attack like the Hardy Brothers back in WWF.”
For one glorious five-day stretch, the Pelicans went undefeated, winning three in a row. Now, however, they’re back to their losing ways, having dropped four straight. The problem is defense: the Pelicans are surrendering a league-high 109.1 points per game thanks to their opponents .463 shooting percentage. Luckily for Anthony Davis and friends, Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole have recently returned, though they haven’t been enough for the two games they’ve played.