Gameday Dish: Charlotte Bobcats at New Jersey Nets

Prokhorov’s Nets will host Jordan’s Bobcats in Newark this evening. It should be a competitive contest. Both the Bobcats and Nets are trying to establish winning habits early and carry them through the remainder of the season in order to have a shot at the playoffs.

This is a big game for the Nets as Coach Avery Johnson needs to convince his team that they are good enough to challenge for a playoff spot. The Nets stand at 2 and 1 after three games – a drastic improvement over last year’s 18 straight L’s to begin the season.

The Charlotte Bobcats on the other hand are 0 and 3, so Coach Larry Brown will be anxious to get a win under his belt. Last season the 2004 expansion team kept the Bulls and Raptors at bay to clinch the seventh spot in the East and their first playoff berth. Now that they’ve tasted the postseason, the Bobcats will be hungry to return for seconds and hopefully better their playoff record with some wins.

The Bobcats were only 13-28 away from home last year, and that included a loss at New Jersey on December 4th, 2009, to break the Nets’ 18-game-season-opening losing streak. However, the Bobcats later defeated the Nets on a return trip to the Garden State on their way to the postseason.

This is New Jersey’s fourth consecutive home game to begin the season, a true scheduling rarity and something the Nets must capitalize on because after tonight they begin a brutal stretch wherein they’ll play 7 of their next 9 games on the road. Last season they were a pitiable 4-37 road team.

Center Brook Lopez leads the Nets in scoring this season at close to 25 points per game. PG Devin Harris, now in his seventh year, has averaged almost 19 points and 8 assists over the first three contests. And third overall draft pick Derrick Favors continues to show signs of improvement as he gains NBA experience, averaging 10.0 rebounds and 10.3 points per game so far in his rookie career.

Coach Brown leads the Bobcats and is counting on top scorer F Gerald Wallace (league leader in minutes played) and 11th year veteran G Stephen Jackson (a 1997 second-round draft pick) to help the team gel early this campaign after the departure of long-time starting point guard Raymond Felton to the Knicks in the off-season. It remains to be seen whether the Bobcats will have as much of an impact without Felton and Tyson Chandler, who were both key pieces to last year’s success.

Third-year PG D.J. Augustin, out of the University of Texas, has replaced Felton in the lead guard role. In last game’s loss at Milwaukee he had 26 points and shot 5 of 6 from 3-point land.

Ian and I will cover the action tonight at 7:00 PM EST on YES.

Fratello’s Fantasy Picks: 2010 Fantasy Draft

Statistics may not lie, but they cannot predict the future. They merely enable us to make our best educated guesses. Even with the most exacting analysis of player stats from years past there is no way to guarantee the assembly of a winning team – anything can happen. That’s what keeps both real and fantasy sports so exciting.

Think about grabbing these guys a little earlier than you may have planned because they look to be underrated in some leagues and on the rise.

Devin Harris (Nets – PG)

With all the recent changes to the Nets organization from ownership on down, the team is hardly recognizable – which is exactly the look they’re going for. But there are still some familiar faces on the revamped roster who will be integral to the new-found success they seek.

Former All-Star Devin Harris is back in action. Devin has the speed and quickness to create transition opportunities on offense. If he can stay healthy this season he will log a lot of minutes and score points. And All-Star-to-be Brook Lopez will help out Harris in the assists column.

It will be interesting to see the relationship that Harris develops with new head coach Avery Johnson and whether he buys into Avery’s defensive philosophy. Ranked as low as 62, Devin is undervalued in some leagues so look to grab him in the 4th Round. When playing his best ball Devin ranks among the top point guards around.

Brandon Jennings (Bucks – PG)

Coming off a phenomenal rookie campaign in which he led the Bucks to the playoffs, Brandon Jennings is arguably more valuable than a 20th ranked point guard. Jennings started in all 82 games and proved he can get numbers.

In fact his first night out on the court as an NBA pro, Jennings wound up just one rebound and one assist shy of a triple double. Not to mention Jennings had a 55-point game against Golden State in November, setting the franchise rookie record.

The Bucks hope Jennings will come back more mature and physically stronger than in his rookie year. He appears to take a very serious approach to his game, which should spell good things for him down the road. The Bucks are a better team this year so they have more weapons to brandish. Joining forces with a healthy Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Jennings will add tremendous value in Round 5.

Joakim Noah (Bulls – C)

After signing a contract extension with the Bulls earlier this month, Joakim Noah can finally charge full steam ahead. He is a steadily improving player who has just scratched the surface of his potential.

Noah plays with an energy and passion you have to love. His offensive game is continuing to develop. He is complimented by power forward Carlos Boozer, and once Boozer is healthy it will free up easy buckets for Noah. Noah is also an excellent rebounder, and he can block shots.

If Noah’s plantar fasciitis does not affect him the way it did last year, I think his numbers will go up significantly. He is ranked 15th in the center pool but if he makes it to Round 4, consider it a steal.

Luis Scola (Rockets – PF, C)

A ferocious rebounder and defender, Luis Scola is now the best player on the court for Houston. Filling in for Yao last season he was able to gain experience and showcase his talent, putting up 44 points against the Nets. His scoring has improved over the last few seasons and he’s versatile enough to face up and get the 18-20 foot jumper.

Though Yao Ming has returned he will be playing reduced minutes so Scola will continue to put up points and grab rebounds in his fourth year with the Rockets. And with his workload lightened, Scola’s minutes should have more impact.

The Rockets will have to play well to make the playoffs in the competitive West this season, and I expect Scola to lead the charge – perhaps earning his first All-Star appearance along the way. Ranked anywhere from 60-80 overall in most leagues, I value him as an early third-round pick.

Blake Griffin (Clippers – PF)

Returning from a lost rookie year, Blake Griffin looks healthy and raring to go. He is as athletic as they come and has much to prove to the NBA.

Griffin is still considered a rookie, but he has no doubt learned a lot and gained valuable experience on the sidelines while recovering from his broken left kneecap. He has played very well in the exhibition season and has a legitimate shot at being a big-time contributor for the Clippers. Griffin will be their go-to guy and, as always, will rebound with the best of them.

You can probably get Griffin as a late pickup in many leagues because he is an unproven entity and you still have to worry about whether his knee will hold up under the rigors of the NBA schedule. So pick him in the 6th Round.

On the Road with Mike: Riviera Basketball Camp in Rimini

I’m excited to participate in the first annual Riviera Basketball Camp in Rimini, Italy along with P.J Carlesimo, Robert Horry and Devin Harris in addition to a number of top coaches and players from Italy.

Located in the Rimini Harbor on the Adriatic Sea, you can imagine how the marina, yachts, courts and beach create an incredibly unique and beautiful setting for this clinic.