Tonight could be the night vs. Spurs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If the Brooklyn Nets don’t beat the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night, they may never beat them again.

While the Nets are expected to have a full complement of players, the Spurs will be without Tony Parker (back), Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and Kawhi Leonard (finger), and will be without Tim Duncan (rest), 37, who played 40 minutes in Wednesday night’s double-overtime win in Washington.

Of course, as Nets coach Jason Kidd pointed out, the Spurs did beat the Golden State Warriors without their Big Three back on Dec. 19, so Brooklyn can’t afford to take San Antonio lightly.

“It’s the Spurs and it’s not about the back of the jerseys, it’s about the front,” Kidd said. “It doesn’t matter who plays tonight for them, they always play to win.”

The Spurs (36-13) have won three straight games, and are currently 2-0 on their nine-game rodeo trip.

“We can’t worry about who’s playing,” Joe Johnson said. “San Antonio, they’re a great team, and regardless of who is out there on the floor, they’re gonna play hard for 48 minutes, and they’re going to do whatever it takes, so that’s one thing we have to do is stay focused. We can’t worry about who’s there and who’s not there.”

The Nets, meanwhile, are expected to have Johnson (knee), Andray Blatche (hip) and Andrei Kirilenko (calf) in their lineup after all three players made it through Wednesday’s practice without any setbacks.

“I don’t have any pain. Maybe just a tad bit sore, but I’ll be all right for tonight,” Johnson said.

“I’m definitely gonna go tonight. I’ll be out there,” Blatche said.

“We feel like we’ve got everybody going,” Kidd said.

As for Brooklyn’s gameplan?

“You don’t wanna do anything out of character,” Kidd said. “Put a lot of pressure on them on the offensive side and protect the paint and try to limit them to one shot [defensively]. When you start to try to do things you normally don’t do, you’ll find yourself in a bad situation.”

Blatche wants to beat the Spurs as much as anyone.

“I ain’t gonna lie to you, I don’t think I’ve ever beat them in my career,” he said. “I gotta check. So hopefully tonight can be the first.”

The key?

“I’m quite sure their legs are a little shot, so I feel like our best chance of beating them is to go at them hard right off the jump,” Blatche said. “Put the intensity at super high and jump off and just run against them because they did just play a double-overtime game.”

But ...

“We can’t come out sleeping on them,” he added.

Said Kidd: “It gives the role players and the guys that are coming off the bench an opportunity to shine and showcase what they can do, and it becomes a little bit more dangerous than if the starters were playing.”

Add it all up, and it wouldn’t shock us in the slightest if this one comes down to the wire.