The Brooklyn Nets making the playoffs while the New York Knicks stand irrelevant at this point in the season marks the beginning of the ‘New York Takeover’. The next step for this team is making it out of the first round and the Nets will do just that against DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors.
The Nets were a great team during the 2012-13 campaign. Come playoff time they had a healthy Deron Williams and Brook Lopez as well as one of the best closers in the game in Joe Johnson. If it weren’t for Chicago Bull’s guard Nate Robinson playing like 97’ Michael Jordan the Nets would have…, OK, I’ll leave it at that.
What the Nets lacked last year was the passion and intensity of veteran leadership. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have just about done it all in the playoffs from winning the Finals to defeating Lebron James on multiple occasions. The addition of former Boston Celtics is just what this Brooklyn Nets team needs in order to take on the adversity a deep playoff run demands. Dealing with younger teams like the Raptors in the Playoffs isn’t something Pierce and Garnett have trouble with either. While with the Boston Celtics these two were able to overstay their welcome atop the Eastern Conference far longer than expected as they overcame much younger and faster opponents in the playoffs.
The Toronto Raptors are a young up and coming team in the Eastern Conference lead by Coach Dwayne Casey, the former assistant to Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks during their championship run. In a thin conference the Raptors have managed to hold onto the 3 seed for most of the season riding atop the back of DeMar DeRozan. The 5th year forward out of USC has had a true breakout season averaging an impressive 22-4-4 to lead the Raptors to 48 wins, the highest mark in franchise history. Point Guard Kyle Lowry has also had a resurgent season compiling career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and 3PT%. Not to mention Lowry’s size makes him a tough play against Deron Williams.
The regular season series between the two Atlantic Conference Division rivals was split at two wins a piece with both teams getting a win on the others home court. One of the losses came in late January with the Nets up with just seconds remaining and all the Nets needed to do was inbound the ball and wait to get fouled. If it wasn’t for a lousy inbound pass from Brooklyn’s Deron William’s the Nets would have secured their 3rd win in the four game season series.
The most recent meeting between these teams took place March 10 in Brooklyn where the Nets found themselves down 11 after the end of the 1st but slowly trickled back to defeat Toronto 101-97 lead by the guard play of Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston. It wasn’t just the offensive side of the ball that Livingston excelled in but also his defensive play on DeRozan whom he held to just 14 points on 3-9 shooting.
In order for the Nets to claim this series Shaun Livingston will need to continue to play aggressive defense on DeRozan while encouraging him to shoot instead of drive to the rim where he made a name for himself. Coach Jason Kidd needs to continue to monitor the workload of his veterans and he shouldn’t be worried about subbing in role players like Andrei Kirilenko and Mason Plumlee who have played fantastic in their bench roles. Plumlee in particular has displayed an unbelievable amount of confidence in his rookie season compiling a .68 field goal % since the All Star break as well as an astounding .79 in the month of April. Simply put, the man needs the ball.
The Raptors need to take advantage of their speed and athleticism that Brooklyn lacks. DeMar DeRozan has evolved into one the best finishers at the rim in the game today and he must attack the basket. Toronto’s guard Kyle Lowry also needs to establish himself early as he has proven too fast for Deron Williams at times as he has been able to get hot against the slower guard. The most important aspect of this series that needs to go right for the Raptors needs to be getting center Jonas Valanciunas the ball. The seven footer has slowly come along in his 3 year career and has finally blossomed into a respectable center who can clog up the paint. The 7-foot Lithuanian is ready to get a heavy workload this series as he has averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds in April. Against a weak interior defense like the Nets, he has the potential to flourish.
Though I do think the Nets veteran leadership and perimeter defense will lead Brooklyn to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2008 the Raptors are no shrug of a matchup. The Nets will have to hustle on both ends of the floor to make it to the next round. With the young legs of the Raptors this series will without a doubt be a marathon but I have faith that the Nets will slow things down and turn it into a half-court game. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will feel at home in the playoffs and will bring the intensity and team spirit this teams needs to advance.
Nets in 7.