Cavaliers-Nets Preview

If the Brooklyn Nets squeak into the playoffs, they’ll likely have done it with solid play at home down the stretch, and they’ll almost certainly be rewarded with a handful of road games in Atlanta or Cleveland.

They might take that over having to play at home.

The Nets will see those teams a total of three times before the regular season comes to an end with the streaking Cavaliers’ visit to Brooklyn Friday night getting things started.

The Nets (30-40), a half game behind Boston for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, are beginning a three-game homestand and will play nine of their final 12 in Brooklyn. That might not be such a good thing considering the team’s 4-12 home record since the calendar turned to 2015.

The Nets have dropped five of six at the Barclays Center, while the Cavs (47-26) have won five of six on the road as well as four straight overall.

That’s just the latest in an NBA-best 28-6 span dating to Jan. 15, and after Wednesday’s 111-89 win in Memphis, they’ve outscored opponents on the winning streak by 17.0 points, limited them to 90.8 points and managed a 43.3-36.3 rebounding edge.

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 24 points, and he’s scored at least 20 in each of his eight road games this month while averaging 27.9.

Cavaliers coach David Blatt said the evolved makeup of the roster with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov has made things considerably easier on the Cavs’ core.

"We’ve made great strides," said Blatt, whose team concludes a three-game road trip before playing six of their final eight at home as they try to wrap up the Central Division title and the No. 2 seed in the East. "And obviously once we got LeBron (James) back from his two-week injury absence and we brought in Shump and J.R. and Moz, the face of our team and the heart of our team has really changed, so you’ve almost got to look at it as a completely different season."

The Cavs’ winning streak began with a 117-92 home win over Brooklyn, giving them four straight victories in the series by an average of 20.0 points while shooting 49.1 percent and 41.8 percent from 3-point range. Three of those wins have come this season, though it hasn’t been because of the core of James, Irving and Kevin Love.

James has been limited to 18.7 points while shooting 41.7 percent in the three matchups. Irving has been worse at 11.7 points on 34.2 percent. Love has been held to 11.7 points and 36.4 percent. The bench has averaged 42.3 points and shot 56.7 percent, while Cleveland has held the Nets to 90.3 points.

If there’s a player in the NBA at the moment capable of disrupting the Cavs’ defensive cohesion, it might be Brook Lopez.

Lopez had 34 points on 16-of-26 shooting with 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s 91-88 win in Charlotte to become the first player since James in 2013 to reach 26 points while shooting at least 60.0 percent in four straight. He’s averaged 30.8 points on 65.8 percent.

"His touch right now around the basket is off the charts," Deron Williams told the team’s official website.

Against the Cavs, though, Lopez has only played in one game this season – last week’s meeting – and he was limited to 10 points on 4 of 10.

Lopez won’t have the help of Thaddeus Young. An MRI revealed a left knee strain that knocked him out of Wednesday’s game, and he’s doubtful Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers.