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Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: #3 Toronto Raptors vs #6 Brooklyn Nets

By: Jon

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.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

All Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

The Brooklyn Hype?

By: Evan

The Nets have made some big offseason moves including trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as well as hiring a new coach in Jason Kidd. Will these moves add up? Or will the Nets be a middle of the pack team in the Eastern Conference? Here are a couple of reasons why I think the Nets will falter despite expectations.

1.) They are old.

Oldies aren’t always Goodies

On paper sure the Nets have talent, but in reality they are old and slow. Just look at the SG,SF, and PF positions. Joe Johnson is a weak defender in his 30s with a mere 1.2 defensive win share rating and won’t be able to compete for much longer. Even worse is Johnson’s contract, which runs until 2015-2016 with almost $70 million dollars guaranteed. Johnson is a one-dimensional player with one of the worst contracts in the NBA.  The newly acquired Paul Pierce, will play the SF position at the age of 36 with declining skills and ability. He will be forced to guard the elite wings in the Eastern Conference including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Luol Deng and Rudy Gay. There is no way Pierce will be able to handle these SF’s on a nightly basis. Just another undeniable fact that Net fans will try to refute with misleading stats about All-Star appearances. Kevin Garnett is another overrated piece of this newly formed squad that won’t contribute on the level expected. Garnett was once one of my favorite players, but at  37 years old, he is a big man with deteriorating health and cannot be expected to produce near his glory years.  Garnett will provide leadership in the locker room, but no significant gains will be made next year for this overpaid squad of veterans.

2.) The Heat, Bulls and Pacers are better

The Bulls will be back and better than ever

The Miami Heat are the defending champions and have the best player in the world in LeBron James. They have attained the championship pedigree and know what it takes to win in consecutive years. The Nets do not have any solid wing defenders to stop  LeBron James from scoring at will. I would pick the Heat in an easy series of maybe 5 games. The Chicago Bulls are another team that I would pick over the Nets because of team defense, youth, and the return of Derrick Rose. The Bulls are arguably the best defensive team in the NBA, led by outstanding coach Tom Thibodeau and his stout defensive tactics. The Bulls can guard wing players with the emerging Jimmy Butler and the consistent Luol Deng, both are crucial to the Bulls’ success. They can also guard inside with the  Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, two vastly underrated players who provide high energy and tenacity. The Bulls are also very young with only one starter over the age of 30, meaning the Bulls are capable of performing on a high level in back-to-back games. The last and most important reason why I would choose the Bulls over the Nets is Derrick Rose. Rose will still be quicker than most every guard in the NBA and there is nobody on the Nets that can stop him. In late playoff games, every team needs its leader to step up and lead and that is exactly what Derrick Rose will do next season. The final team that would beat the Nets in a playoff series would be the Indiana Pacers, an extremely dangerous squad that had a real chance to upset the Heat last year. Paul George is a superstar in the making with an improving offensive game, tremendous defensive ability and off the charts athleticism. Similarly to the Bulls, the Pacers have two great post defenders in David West and Roy Hibbert who intimidated the Heat from driving to the basket for easy points. The Pacers also have a great young coach in Frank Vogel, who will be COY in the next few years. The Pacers would also beat the Nets in a playoff series.

3.) Can Kidd coach?

Already criticized for answering his phone during a game, will Jason Kidd really help the Nets?

The Brooklyn Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov likes to make big media moves and create buzz around the team. But all these moves are not smart basketball decisions. Just like taking older veterans like Pierce and Garnett, hiring Kidd was a risky move. Kidd has no prior coaching experience and despite his coach-like demeanor on the court, Kidd will now have to balance the egos of Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett, two players with reputations for being recalcitrant towards new ideas. Thibodeau, Vogel and 2-time champion Erik Spoelstra are experienced coaches, coaching established and elite teams who command respect. Kidd’s selection is questionable, and   the basketball acumen of the front office is not sound.

4.) Will Deron Williams finally take the next step?

Can Jason Kidd help Deron Williams become a leader?

Deron Williams has talent —  he can score from inside and out, he can dish and he can defend but his problems are his motor and drive. Deron was frequently out of shape, only to recover in the second half  to play to his All-Star potential. Time is running out for Deron as younger players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry are leading their teams to new heights while Deron struggles to get out of the first round. He will have no better opportunity than this year when the talent surrounding him is at its highest. Maybe KG and Paul Pierce can convince Deron to pick up his game and take control on a consistent basis. Maybe not. A leader needs to lead and Deron Williams has been complacent, a talented player with limited intensity. On paper, the Nets look good, but they are not contenders for an NBA championship.  The Heat, Bulls, and Pacers have both talent,  heart and effective coaching.  Remember how the Bulls, without Rose and Deng beat the Nets in game 7 in Brooklyn?  KG and Pierce can instill some intensity but their best playing days are behind them.  Will they be able to light a fire under the younger Nets?   The NBA is rich with talent, but it takes much more than talent to win a NBA Championship.  And with a rookie coach at the helm, I don’t see the Nets as a threat to win the Eastern Conference.