Nets look to bolster playoff push against Hawks
The Brooklyn Nets hope to take advantage of a one-game reprieve in the NBA's toughest remaining schedule when they visit the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
The Nets find themselves dueling Detroit, Miami, Orlando and Charlotte for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
They get a showdown with the Pistons at home on Monday night.
That will be the Nets' only home game in their next nine contests, a stretch that gets tough next week when they begin a seven-game trip with four straight head-to-head with Western playoff contenders.
All told, the Nets' 15 remaining opponents have a cumulative .581 winning percentage, the highest in the NBA.
For one night, Brooklyn gets a chance to fatten up against a Hawks club that has dropped two in a row and opened a four-game homestand Wednesday with a 111-104 loss to San Antonio.
The Nets have dominated the Hawks in two earlier meetings this season, both of which were at home. Brooklyn won those games by a total of 33 points, averaging 130 points in the process.
The Nets got their offense back in high gear on a just completed two-game homestand on which they averaged 120 points in wins over Dallas and Cleveland.
The Brooklyn bench accounted for 118 of the 240 points in those two wins, but it was a new starter who drew the highest praise from coach Kenny Atkinson following Wednesday's 113-107 triumph over Cleveland.
The two-game winning streak has coincided with the promotion to the starting lineup of Rodions Kurucs, who had a total of 24 points and 12 rebounds off the bench in the Nets' previous three games, which they lost by a cumulative 49 points.
After spending much of his rookie season playing small forward, he was slotted at power forward in the last two games, and responded by contributing a total of 29 points and 13 rebounds to the wins.
"We sat him for a few games, and he didn't get flustered about that," Atkinson boasted to reporters in the wake of the Cleveland win. "He's our starting (power forward), and I felt with those rebounds, it helps us realize he can play (power forward) in this league."
Against Atlanta, Kurucs will have to deal with impressive Hawks big man John Collins, who has averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last five games.
Collins went for 29 points and eight rebounds, then 30 points and 14 rebounds in the two earlier meetings with the Nets.
Kurucs also started both of those games, scoring 11 points in each.
Collins responded with 18 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes in Wednesday's loss to the Spurs after having missed three straight games with an illness.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce assured his second-year big man was missed during a stretch in which his club lost two of three.
"John just gives us a dimension that is always tough to guard with him presenting at the rim and the pick-and-rolls, his ability to step out and shoot the 3s, and the bigs stay back in their coverage," Pierce noted to reporters earlier this week. "Just the amount of attention he draws with the pick-and-rolls, it provides 3-point opportunities for some of the other guys -- Kevin (Huerter) and (Kent Bazemore) and (Taurean Prince) -- out on the perimeter."
The Nets have won four in a row overall against the Hawks. They've won three straight at Atlanta dating back to March of 2017.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 8, 2019