The Brooklyn Nets were expected to be a force in the Eastern Conference once they were assembled, with Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce joining an already talented trio, the expectations were rather high. That wasn’t the case as they struggled during the first half of the season, first year coach Jason Kidd got his team playing excellent basketball after the All-Star break. There was talk this week that the Nets intentionally lost their regular season finale to fall to sixth place to avoid playing the Bulls, so they’ll be playing the third seeded Toronto Raptors instead. Yes, the third seeded Toronto Raptors. They were a 34 win team last season, in just one year this team has improved their win total to 48.
The Raptors made a key trade 18 games into the season, in a great case of addition by subtraction they traded forward Rudy Gay to the Kings. In that trade they received several role players, but the biggest addition may have been the blossoming of DeMar Derozan. Another huge key to their success was the maturation of talented point guard Kyle Lowry. Derozan has upped his scoring average to 22.7 points a game and Lowry has become the team’s unquestioned leader. Kyle averaged 18 points and 7.4 assists per game, leading the Raptors to a 48 win season. Toronto is one of the best defensive teams in the league, giving up just 98 points per game(7th). They don’t struggle on the offensive end either, averaging 101.3 points per game while shooting 37% from beyond the arc. The Nets may have avoided the Bulls, but they will still be playing another top notch defensive unit.
Keys to Victory
- Own the glass, the Nets average 38.1 boards a game to Toronto’s 42.5
- Speed the game up, Brooklyn wings can’t run with Derozan and Ross
- Limit Nets to one shot a possession, box out Plumlee
- Get Ross going early, will need a third scorer behind Lowry & Derozan
- Perimeter Defense, must slow down Johnson, Pierce, Williams
The Nets have arguably been the best team in the Eastern Conference in the new year, they really got into a groove. Similar to Toronto, they are also a very tough defensive team giving up 99.5 points per game(11th in league). Of all the high profile names on the roster, Mason Plumlee and Shaun Livingston have been two of the most important on that end of the floor. Livingston’s versatility and length has allowed him to defend multiple positions and Plumlee has been a much needed rim protector for his team. Another under the radar player playing a big role is Marcus Thorton, acquired from the Kings late in the season, he’s done a great job providing scoring off the bench. The Nets obviously wouldn’t be here without Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, or Joe Johnson. Having battle tested veterans is certainly an advantage for the Nets, experience never hurts.
Keys to Victory
- Control the tempo, don’t let the Raptors get out in transition
- Defend the three ball, Raptors shoot 37% from deep
- Offensive Efficiency
- Marcus Thorton & Andray Blatche have to produce off the bench
- Make supporting cast beat you, not Lowry & Derozan
Stats used from ESPN.com