Brooklyn's Deron Williams has long been considered one of the NBA's elite point guards. Second-year pro Kyrie Irving is quickly making his claim for the same status with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When the two square off Tuesday night in Brooklyn, the Nets hope Williams' starting backcourt mate can start playing up to expectations, while the Cavaliers are looking for better bench scoring to take a load off Irving.
The Nets (3-2) have got in a habit of being lulled to sleep by lackluster opponents lately, and are hoping to end that trend against Cleveland (2-5).
Brooklyn blew a 22-point lead in last Monday's loss to Minnesota and let a 21-point advantage slip to five in the game's final two minutes of Sunday's 82-74 victory over Orlando. It wasn't exactly an uplifting win, as the Nets shot a season-low 37.2 percent.
"We're not happy about how we finished the game and how we almost gave up a 20-point lead again," Williams said. "I don't know if we got lackadaisical or what because we were up 20, but this is something that can't happen time after time."
Not helping matters is the continued shooting slump of new Net Joe Johnson. Acquired from Atlanta in the offseason, the six-time All-Star was supposed to combine with Williams to give Brooklyn one of the league's best backcourts. Williams is holding up his end of the bargain, averaging 16.0 points while shooting 45.9 percent, but Johnson is averaging 13.6 points -- his lowest output since 2002-03 -- and shooting a career-worst 36.2 percent.
Partially softening the blow for Brooklyn is the strong play from Brook Lopez. After missing all but five games last season due to injury, Lopez is averaging 16.4 points.
Irving's scoring average of 22.9 points ranks near the top of the league and rookie Dion Waiters is averaging 15.4, but Cleveland isn't get much production from its second unit.
The Cavaliers, losers of three in a row entering the last of a six-game road trip, are near the bottom of the league in bench scoring, averaging 26.6 points. Daniel Gibson has been Cleveland's only reliable scoring threat from the bench at 9.7 points per game.
Hampering the team's second unit is rookie Tyler Zeller's concussion and broken cheekbone, as he missed his third straight game in Sunday's 106-91 loss at Oklahoma City.
Coach Byron Scott has exhausted his options. He has 12 players on his roster that have played in at least three games and are averaging at least 10 minutes.
"We've just got to get somebody else on that second unit to step up. The opportunity's there," Scott said. "The opportunity's there. I'm just hoping one of these guys will just step up and take a chance and take hold of it.
"If not, we'll just keep trying to find different pieces to the puzzle."
The Cavs split their four-game series with the Nets last season, with Irving averaging 29.0 points in the final two games he played.
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