Nets crush Minny, headed to Philly
Blowout T-Wolves before critical conference showdown
The Brooklyn Nets weren’t the least bit affected by their unexpected extra day off in Minnesota.
Now, we’ll see how well they respond in Philadelphia Wednesday night in what figures to be their biggest regular-season game of the year.
“Obviously, we know the implications of the (76ers) game in terms of the standings,” said Joe Harris after scoring 23 points in Tuesday afternoon’s rescheduled 127-97 rout of the Timberwolves at Minnesota’s Target Center.
Originally slated to take on the T-Wolves Monday, the Nets (37-17) joined all of Minnesota’s major pro sports franchises in postponing their respective contests following the tragic shooting death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
There were no fans in the arena for the impromptu matinee, but players made sure to send a message regarding the ongoing furor in Minnesota, not only over Wright’s death, but as the Derek Chauvin trial continues in that city.
“All we can do is be here for each other physically, emotionally try to comprehend what guys are going through,” Timberwolves guard and former Net D’Angelo Russell said.
“I encourage everybody to go out there and do what you can physically do to make things better, not just speak about it.”
The Nets, who have contributed to social justice programs both as individual players and as an organization, had to quickly turn the page following their easy but emotional win.
Even after Kevin Durant put up 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting in his best performance since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 23 games, Brooklyn players were looking forward to Wednesday’s epic clash with the 76ers (37-17).
Tied atop the Eastern Conference standings with identical records, the Nets and Sixers have split their first two meetings this season and this final encounter could go a long way toward determining home-court advantage in next month’s playoffs.
“There’s still a lot of games left in the season regardless of the outcome (Wednesday),” Harris noted. “But it’s just another test, another opportunity to get better.”
And an opportunity to gain control of the No. 1 seed in the East.
“We’re well-coached, we got a coaching staff that keeps everybody locked in no matter who is out there on the floor,” said Durant.
“You get hungry guys on our team that want minutes, that want opportunities and you know you add that combination together, some of these games that people might have thought we’d lose we end up coming out on top. That’s a credit to the coaching staff and the players for staying ready.”
With Kyrie Irving (personal reasons), James Harden (hamstring) and LaMarcus Aldridge (non-COVID-related illness) sitting out, the Nets’ reserves did carry their share of the load Tuesday.
Landry Shamet scored 19 points off the bench and DeAndre Jordan added 13 for Brooklyn, which could have Irving and/or Aldridge back in the mix in Philadelphia.
Durant, however, will have to be re-evaluated prior to Wednesday’s game.
“I want to play just to get back in the swing of things more so than like pinpoint that (Philadelphia) matchup,” said Durant when asked if the magnitude of the Sixers game would get him to play on back-to-back nights.
“You know what I’m saying? I think for us we want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we’re doing out there and I think that’s just as important as circling the calendar for Philly. They’re a great team, well-coached and I’m sure a team we’re going to run into here soon.”
In local college sports news, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer team played to a hard-fought, double-overtime scoreless draw with long-time rival Long Island University Monday at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The reward for both teams is a rematch at BPP on Friday at 1 p.m. for the Northeast Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
By hanging on for the 0-0 tie behind sophomore goaltender Demetri Skoumbakis, who dove to stop SFC junior El Mahdi Youssoufi’s penalty shot in the 73rd minute, the Sharks (3-1-3) earned the No. 2 seed in the NEC and an automatic berth in the title game against the host Terriers (5-1-1).
St. Francis has won four of the last seven NEC championships and LIU has grabbed two of its own during that stretch, including the 2018 crown when the Sharks were still playing in Downtown Brooklyn.
Now based in Brookville, N.Y., the LIU soccer program is no stranger to BPP or the Terriers.
Judging from Monday’s contest, which featured 10 yellow cards and 30 foul calls during the 110-minute marathon, distance has not made the hearts of these players grow any fonder for one another.
Freshman goalie David Santiago stood his ground with four saves in his first career start and Skoumbakis also stopped four shots on goal.
Unlike previous campaigns, when four teams were invited to the NEC Tournament, only the Terriers and Sharks will vie for the championship this year due to ongoing COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.
Judging from the past decade, the league couldn’t have wished for a better matchup or a better setting right here in Brooklyn Heights.
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