Thursday, February 22, 2024
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NBA Preview: Utah Jazz (24-23) at Brooklyn Nets (18-27)

The Brooklyn Nets spent last week struggling to get through fourth quarters and finally did just enough to eke out a win on Saturday.

Attempting to get consecutive victories for the first time in over a month, the Nets could get some help if Ben Simmons, who is listed as probable, returns from a back injury in Monday’s game against the visiting Utah Jazz.

The Nets are 5-17 over their past 22 games since Dec. 14 and 3-12 in their last 15 when they struggled to sweep the league-worst Detroit Pistons in a home-and-home in late December.

Recent games have highlighted Brooklyn’s woes down the stretch. The Nets improved to 5-11 in games decided by five points or fewer when their five-game homestand continued, beating the Houston Rockets 106-104 on Saturday.

The Nets led by as many as 28 points in the second quarter and ended a week that began with them giving up the final 22 points of a 125-114 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 21 in the finale of a three-game road trip. Brooklyn also lost a nine-point lead in the final quarter of Tuesday’s 108-103 loss to the New York Knicks and was unable to overcome a 10-point deficit in the final 6:51 of the fourth in its 96-94 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday.

Cam Thomas led the Nets on Saturday, scoring 22 of his 37 points in the first half. He ended his eighth game scoring at least 30 points this season by hitting two free throws with 5.1 seconds left on a night when the Nets experienced one of their worst games at the free-throw line this season, missing 15 of 37 tries, marking their second-most misses this season.

Simmons last played Nov. 6 and has appeared in 48 games since being acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers as the main return for James Harden. The Nets are 27-21 with Simmons on the floor and he could return after practicing with the G-League team in Long Island.

Utah cruised to a 17-point home win over Brooklyn on Dec. 18 and that was part of the opening stages of its turnaround from a 7-16 start. The Jazz are 17-7 over their past 24 games and moved back over .500 by getting a 134-122 win at Charlotte on Saturday that marked the 17th time they scored at least 120 in that span.

Similar to the Nets, the Jazz led big in the first half and struggled at times in the fourth. The Jazz held a 35-point lead in the first half and saw the lead get down to seven late in the fourth.

Lauri Markkanen scored 33 — his eighth game this season scoring at least 30 points — and Collin Sexton added 24 as the Jazz shot 55.9 percent to match their second-highest field-goal percentage this season and handed out a season-best 38 assists.

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