It's been a while since the Nets have been involved in a "statement game", but that's exactly what they will face in Brooklyn Thursday night on nation TV against the Boston Celtics. Just being on a featured game is brand new to this franchise and doing it against a franchise that's been elite as long as the Celtics have, makes this showdown all that more important.
Avery Johnson's crew started out the season well with an opening night victory over the Toronto Raptors at the Barclays Center followed by two ugly losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami Heat. Those stumbles were followed by back-to-back victories over the Orlando Magic and another win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night.
Of those three straight wins, none of them are games Brooklyn wouldn't be expected to win. All that means is six games into the season for the new look Nets, we still don't really know just how good this team is or can be. Taking out the Celtics at Barclays with the lights shining brightest in front of a TNT audience will go a long way towards giving us answers.
The Nets backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson still has bugs to work out together, but individually they seem to be in a groove. Williams scored a season-high 26 against the Cavs and is averaging nearly 18 points per game, while Johnson broke out with 25 Monday and is still averaging just 15.5 points, well below his career average of 17.7.
Williams and Johnson could be facing a Celtics team without point guard Rajon Rondo, who is hobbled by a bum right ankle suffered in Boston's victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Add that to the departure of Ray Allen in the offseason and Brooklyn could have a clear advantage at guard Thursday night.
Up front, Brook Lopez seems to have heard the complaints about his rebounding, pulling down nearly seven boards a night after hauling in less than six his last full season. He'll get tested by Kevin Garnett, who at 36 is still leading Boston with over eight rebounds a game.
Veteran Leandro Barbosa would start in the place of Rondo after scoring 16 points off the bench against the Jazz. Meanwhile, the Nets injury situation should be unchanged, with backup guard MarShon Brooks and forward Gerald Wallace both likely to sit out with left ankle injuries.
Both teams are putting three-game winning streaks on the line as they try to catch the red-hot New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division. Brooklyn can also get a little bit of revenge after Boston ran the Nets right out of the Barclays Center in a preseason game in just the second game ever played in the new arena.
You can catch all the action nationally on TNT or listen locally on WFAN with tip scheduled for 8:00 p.m.