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Nov 26, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett (2) goes to the basket against Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA playoffs: Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets - ANALYSIS & PREDICTION

Jan 11, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Brooklyn Nets point guard Shaun Livingston (14) battles with Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) during the 4th quarter in a game at the Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 96-80. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The first-round matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets promises to be close and exciting. Who’s going to win? Let’s try to winkle out an answer by breaking it down:

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GUARDS & SWINGMEN: The Raps’ backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan easily out-points (40.6 to 24.1) and out-assists (11.4 to 9.3) their counterparts in Brooklyn, Shaun Livingston and Deron Williams. Terrence Ross is the biggest x-factor in this series. While we believe he’ll more than hold his own on defense, he can’t be a millstone when the Raps have the ball. Veterans like those in Brooklyn uniforms will exploit TRoss’ penchant for turnovers unless he’s very careful. So much will be determined by his shooting from beyond the arc. Deron Williams seems happier playing off the ball, with Livingston capably handling the rock. Johnson can get hot from anywhere – TRoss, are you listening?

ADVANTAGE: Toronto

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FRONTCOURT: Now we’re guessing, as Brooklyn plays a bunch of people up front. They have been successful since moving Paul (The Truth) Pierce to small forward, where his heady play belies his lack of size. I’m sure Jason Kidd would love to see Kevin Garnett on the floor, but he’s been prone to the assorted aches and pains which slow down older players. When he’s out there, he’ll be talking the NBA’s best smack to Jonas Valanciunas. Amir Johnson has also been grappling with health issues – can his ankle take a pounding? The Nets have a surfeit of capable big men, including smart and speedy Andrei Kirilenko, intimidating Andray Blatche, and improving rookie Mason Plumlee.

ADVANTAGE: Brooklyn

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SECOND UNIT: The Raps have been receiving excellent play from Greivis Vasquez the past month. He’s on the floor to spell Kyle Lowry, but often plays with him. Greivis’s shooting from beyond the arc has been a huge bonus, and he’s quite happy to put the ball on the floor, and invade the painted area. His little floater flummoxes the big men. Tyler Hansbrough can restore some balance up front, if he crashes the boards without drawing fouls. Ex-Rap Alan Anderson blows hot or cold with his outside shots, but will jack them up regardless. Ditto Patrick Patterson for Toronto, though he’ll defend and rebound. Marcus Thorton and Marquis Teague won’t see much time, leaving Livingston vulnerable to fatigue.

ADVANTAGE: Toronto

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COACHING: The Raps’ Dwane Casey has much more playoff experience (albeit as an Assistant) than the Nets’ rookie, Jason Kidd. Of course, Kidd was a superb player, not a boast Casey can make. Our man will rely on his defensive savvy, while Kidd will push his troops to outscore and demoralize the youthful Raps. I’ve been impressed by both coaches’ flexibility, as they turned floundering squads into winners by tweaking their lineups.

ADVANTAGE: Even

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INTANGIBLES: The Nets will get every close call from the referees, so Kyle Lowry will need to be careful about when and where he freezes to get the offensive foul. Is fan support worth something? The players claim it is, so I’ll go with that, and say that Raps fans will be noisier than their blase peers in Brooklyn. We also have home court in Game Seven, should there be one. The Nets obviously win the playoff-experience “battle”, and the Raps have been a disaster for years in overtime games.

ADVANTAGE: Brooklyn

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Well….that solved very little, so I’m going to lean on what I consider the most meaningful statistic I have found. The Raps rank in the NBA’s top ten on both offense and defense. The Nets are 14th and 19th respectively. In what will be a lengthy and tight series, those rankings matter, as does points differential (Raps plus_3.5, Nets minus_0.5).

I’m sold – the Raptors prevail in 7 games.

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Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs Dwane Casey Jason Kidd Toronto Raptors

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