The Toronto Raptors, after 2 wins over Chicago, face another playoff-bound team this afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. The Brooklyn Nets have been a success in their first season since escaping New Jersey, and have serious aspirations on the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference after road wins in Boston and Indiana. Deron Williams, the Nets’ excellent point guard, has stepped up his game recently after much mid-season criticism. He dropped 33 points and 14 assists on the Pacers.
The Nets have dusted the Raps 3 times already this season. If Toronto is going to avoid a season sweep, it must:
- Win the second-unit “game within a game”. The Nets’ starters, particularly Williams, centre Brook Lopez, and shooting guard Joe Johnson, will give our top 5 all they can handle. Where the Raps can nudge ahead will be when their stars are having a rest. With the exception of Andray Blatche, who’s turned around his career with fine play this season, the Nets’ bench can be exploited. For example, Kris Humphries was expected to contribute offensive rebounding and scoring, but has fallen out of favour with coach P.J. Carlesimo, and may not see the floor. MarShon Brooks has not stepped forward in his second season. If Alan Anderson or Quincy Acy enjoy a hot hand, the Raps can exploit the Nets.
- Neutralize the Nets on the boards. The Raps remember well the single-minded Reggie Evans as a demon rebounder. Aaron Gray, who will likely start again in the enforced absence of Jonas Valanciunas, will need to box out Reggie time and again, and hope that Amir Johnson or Rudy Gay crash the defensive boards. In addition, Lopez is the Nets’ top scorer, so Aaron will need help guarding him. These are tough assignments for a backup centre. Watch for Quincy to once again get a lot of burn.
- Break even from beyond the arc. The Nets take more 3s than their opponents, but aren’t especially proficient (35.8%). The Raps need to make some long balls against this high-scoring team. Kyle Lowry is overdue to hit his shots.
The Raps are likely to be without Terrence Ross (ankle injury) and Landry Fields (illness) once again. The team was able to defeat Chicago despite a short bench. Whether they can grab a win against this fine Nets squad is questionable indeed. I’ll defy logic once again, in the hope the Nets are fatigued after enjoying Toronto’s night life, and call for a 106-104 Raps win.
Brian Boake is a co-editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.