Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Monday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Brooklyn at Portland (-6, 225), 10:05 ET, NBA TV

If D’Angelo Russell hadn’t delivered one of the 2018-19 NBA season’s most memorable single-quarter performances last Tuesday night, one of the league’s best feel-good stories might be headed for a grim ending. If the Brooklyn Nets hadn’t rallied from a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit in Sacramento, riding a 45-18 explosion over the final 12 minutes to a remarkable 123-121 upset, they would enter this week at .500 instead of two games up.

Brooklyn’s grip on its first playoff appearance since 2015 would be slipping given its remaining schedule and the fact Miami, Orlando and Charlotte have all had excellent stretches over the past week-plus to close the gap in the race for the final available spots in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Russell scored 27 points in the fourth quarter to help fuel a ridiculous comeback, outscoring the Kings by nine points by himself. Sacramento was obviously complicit in aiding the cause since leads of that magnitude don’t get blown without both teams doing their part, but Russell scoring 44 points not only reminded everyone that the Lakers gave up on him prematurely, it also served to provide a cushion between them and a suddenly surging pack of Southeast Division squad that now look like it might come in handy.

The Nets open the week in the No. 7 spot in the East, one game up on the Heat and two up on the Magic, whose four-game winning streak is currently the longest in the conference. Rescuing a game that they were certain to lose six days ago may wind up making the difference between watching the playoffs from home and participating.





Brooklyn takes the floor in Portland on Monday night with only one team currently under .500 remaining on its incredibly difficult schedule going forward. The lone team without a winning record, Miami, may indeed have one by the time it visits Barclays Center on April 10 regular-season finale that could be among that night’s most important contests or might wind up utterly meaningless. It remains to be seen how things play out, but the Heat, Magic and Hornets going on a run since mid-March has turned up the pressure for the Nets, who have visits to Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Indiana following their final game against a Western Conference opponent tonight. Their home games will come against the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors and Heat.

It’s possible that the “Load Management” fairy winds up being kind to Brooklyn by removing a Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo from the equation for a night, but if Russell hadn’t hit 10 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter in Sacramento, things would look bleak as a season-long seven-game road trip winds down with games in Portland tonight and Philly on Thursday. The Nets will head back east after their game against the Trail Blazers and are playing with house money at this point, knowing they’ll be bringing at least one win that should’ve eluded them back with them on the long flight home. They beat the Lakers on Friday night as Russell followed up his dominance in Sacramento by finishing with 21 points and 13 assists in a 111-106 victory, helping Brooklyn climb back above .500 for the first time since early this month.

The Nets own tie-breakers over the Magic and Hornets but have gone 1-2 against the Heat, which spells trouble if they haven’t wrapped up a playoff bid by the time the regular-season’s final night rolls around. They can really take a lot of pressure off themselves by stealing this game in Portland, which is possible since this is just their third game in six days and they should have fresh legs.

The Blazers have won six of seven and currently reside in the fourth spot in the Western Conference, one game behind Houston and two games up on the Clippers, their surprise first-round opponent if the season ended today. While they can’t control who they play, Terry Stotts’ team is in control of their ability to open the postseason at home and can still move up past the Rockets, who they own the tie-breaker over due to a 2-1 head-to-head edge. The Nets are one of only three teams with winning records that Portland has to face in a very manageable slate over the next two weeks, though it will have to navigate a couple of back-to-backs and faces a home-and-home with the Nuggets that could help it close the gap in the Northwest Division.

It’s very likely that the Blazers will finish top-four and not out of the question that they can finish as high as No. 2, although that will take a near-perfect run. Following this one, they’ll leave for a four-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Chicago and features stops in Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota.

C.J. McCollum, who suffered a scary-looking knee strain on March 16, will remain sidelined for this game but is working towards a return and should be in the mix come in April. Rodney Hood, Jake Layman and Seth Curry have been filling in, showing off a level of depth that Portland hasn’t enjoyed in a while. It will be looking to close out a 4-0 homestand after victories over the Pacers, Mavs and Pistons without McCollum as Damian Lillard has averaged 30.3 points and 12 assists to fuel the results. The Trail Blazers are 11-4 since the All-Star break.

Portland defeated Brooklyn 113-99 on Feb. 21 in the only meeting between the teams this season. It out-rebounded the Nets 60-49 and got 27 points and 12 rebounds from Jusuf Nurkic, who has teamed with Enes Kanter to give the Blazers a formidable center combination that has helped wear down defenses over the past few weeks. Over his past seven games, Lillard has shot nearly 47 percent (28-for-60) from 3-point range and has made six from beyond the arc in each of the last two.

His duel with Russell highlights a light four-game night in the NBA but figures to be worth staying up for. The Nets will be without shooting guard Allen Crabbe (knee) but are otherwise at full strength. The ‘under’ has prevailed in eight of the last 10 games involving Brooklyn. Portland has won six of seven in the series, scoring at least 112 points in each of its victories. The lone Nets’ win did come at the Moda Center on Nov. 10 of last season as Russell scored a team-high 21 points in a 101-97 upset.

Best of the Rest

Philadelphia at Orlando, 7:05 p.m. ET, NBA TV: The Magic put their four-game winning streak on the line against the visiting 76ers, hoping to even the season series in order to keep the pressure on Miami in the race for the Southeast Division and the final playoff spot in the East. Orlando visits the Heat on Tuesday night to open a crucial four-game road trip, so securing a victory in its 39th home game of the season carries increased importance. Philadelphia will be the last team with a winning record to come through Amway Center this regular-season, so pulling off an upset as a two-point underdog would go a long way in keeping them in the postseason mix.

The Sixers are the first team with a winning record Orlando has seen since it lost a Philadelphia on March 5. J.J. Redick shot 8-for-9 from 3-point range to help take down the team that drafted him despite the absence of Joel Embiid. The Magic has gone 5-2 against their sub-.500 competition and has won five straight home games, last losing on Feb. 22. Philly lost in Atlanta 127-125 on Saturday night and will be looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since March 6 and only the fourth time in 2019. Orlando has been among the NBA’s top defensive teams since the All-Star break, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up against a playoff team that’s at full strength after saving its season with an overtime win over the Grizzlies on Saturday, rallying from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Oklahoma City at Memphis, 8:05 p.m. ET: The Thunder are even with Utah for the No. 6 seed, a half-game behind the Clippers for the fifth spot and a half-game up on the Spurs, who are currently eighth. The Western Conference’s playoff teams are all set, but OKC will want no part of a first-round series with the Warriors and will have to win in order to ensure it stays out of the final two spots since Golden State figures to finish first or second. Defeating the Raptors in Toronto on Friday night snapped a four-game skid and puts the Thunder on track to finish strong since six of their final eight games will come at home in Oklahoma City. Winning in Memphis should be made easier by the fact guard Avery Bradley (shin) is sidelined and Joakim Noah (knee soreness) isn’t likely to play. Dennis Schroder is expected to participate despite rolling his ankle against the Raps.

Phoenix at Utah, 9:05 p.m. ET: The Jazz rolled past Phoenix 114-97 when the teams played less than two weeks ago on March 13, getting 26 points on Donovan Mitchell. Rudy Gobert grabbed 20 boards as Utah won the battle of the boards 57-35. The line is hovering around 15 points here as Utah opens a four-game homestand as it looks to chase down Portland and Houston in the race for homecourt advantage out West. Utah is at full strength outside of the absence of backup point guard Dante Exum, while the Suns list Josh Jackson as questionable and have declared Kelly Oubre (thumb) out for the season. Forward T.J. Warren and guard Tyler Johnson remain out, so look for rookies De’Anthony Melton and Mikal Bridges to play major minutes. Utah has beaten Phoenix by a combined 45 points this season, getting averages of 17 points and 16 rebounds from Gobert, who has made life difficult for No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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