The Atlantic Division rivals will be competing in the first round of the playoffs for a chance to likely play the three time defending Eastern Conference Champions. During the season, the teams were 2-2 versus each other. The Raptors are one of the biggest surprises this season. Although the Raptors have been horrible over the past few years, Dwayne Casey led his team to one of the best records in franchise history. Although they lost Chris Bosh a few seasons ago, they were able to rebuild around the nucleus of Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Kyle Lowry. Although many believed that they were tanking when they traded Rudy Gay half way through the season, they excelled and took the Atlantic Division title from the favorites, Nets and Knicks.
Although the Raptors have led the division for much of the season, the Nets almost overtook Toronto after starting the season 10-21. The Nets were one of the most expensive disappointments in NBA history. The Nets were about to collapse and Jason Kidd was on the hot seat after only half a year on the job. However, the Nets switched their philosophy after the loss of Brook Lopez, which led to the second best record in the East after Jan 1. They started to play a small lineup which allowed them to rack up steals and create mismatches on offense. Although the Nets spent millions on their starting rotation, their bench was great and gave the team depth during the tough, injury filled season.
Why the Raptors will win?
The Raptors have overachieved all season and they hope that they can continue to succeed in the playoffs. Although they have the better record and are favored in terms of seeding, many experts are predicting the Nets to win the series. The Raptors have been led all season by their talented backcourt, which is manned by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Kyle and DeMar had breakout campaigns for the Raptors this season. Kyle averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. Along with his ability to pass the ball and penetrate the lane, Lowry is a great shooter that will spread the floor during the entire series. DeMar DeRozan benefitted from the loss of Gay and passing ability of Lowry. DeRozan averaged 23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. DeRozan has the ability to take over a game and score over 30 points per game during a short series. Although DeRozan scores a lot of points, he takes a lot of shots and does not have a good shooting percentage for the modern scorer.
Along with the two stars, the Raptors have a nice group of role players that will enable them to receive contributions from many different players. The most important player for the Raptors this series will be Jonas. The big center was a top five pick a few seasons ago and should be able to dominate the smaller Brooklyn front line. Jonas should be able to acquire a lot of rebounds and give more opportunities to the scoring guards. Along with Jonas, Amir Johnson should be able to help dominate the paint on offense and stop the Brooklyn Nets, who frequently drive into the paint. On the bench, the Raptors will have many contributors such as Tyler Hansborough, Patrick Patterson, Grevis Vazquez, and John Salmons. The bench is full of solid contributors who will provide offense, defense, and toughness during each game when they come off of the bench.
Why the Nets will win?
The Nets have the most expensive roster in NBA history, but almost failed to make the playoffs. Although the Nets will not have their best player, Brook Lopez, they have a transitional style of play, which made them a better team. Although they have lost games lately, they were trying to keep their elder players healthy and rested for the most important part of the season. Besides Lopez, everyone on their roster is healthy and rested, which should allow them to play their best basketball. Also, Garnett is returning to the roster, which greatly improves their interior defense and allows them to turn around the season after the change of the new year. Fortunately, the loss of Garnett during the regular season allowed Mason Plumlee to develop into a quality back up center that can provide energy and youth to an older squad.
The Brooklyn Nets were 2-2 during the season against the Raptors, but 2-0 when they did not play a game the night before. Fortunately, the Nets will not have to play any back to back games. The Nets are built around their guards and forwards, who lead their team both offensively and defensively. Although they do not play a huge front line, they create a lot of mismatches with Pierce, Johnson, and Livingston. Many power forwards such as Amir Johnson have had a difficult time guarding Pierce because he is a versatile scorer from both the outside and inside. Johnson is able to overpower other guards in the paint, which allows him to score a lot of points. Also, he is the most clutch player in the league. Livingston has been great all season because he can guard many positions and pass over other guards.
The biggest x-factor for the Nets will be Deron Williams. Williams has the talent to be the $98 million man, but has been inconsistent throughout his career with the Nets. If Williams can outplay Lowry, the Nets will easily be able to beat the Raptors. The Nets also have a deep bench with Marcus Thornton, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Andrei Kirelinko, and Andray Blatche. Each player has the ability to take over a game offensively or defensively, which will be important since Garnett and Pierce cannot play major minutes.
Prediction: Brooklyn Nets win in 6 games
The Toronto Raptors have limited experience in the playoffs while the Nets’ players have played in hundreds of playoff games. Although the Raptors have never failed in the playoffs, they have never succeeded and many teams have had trouble during debut playoff appearances. The combination of Garnett’s intensity, Pierce and Johnson clutch shots, Williams and Livingston passing ability, and the team’s depth make the Nets hard to break down in the first round. The Raptors should make the game’s close and win two at home, but I expect the Nets to win a majority of the closer games and win all the games in Brooklyn. The Nets have been great at home over the last few months and I do not expect anything to change during the postseason. Garnett and Pierce want another title and they will not allow their team to lose in the first round to a bunch of first time players in Toronto.
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