Noooooooo Canada?

Updated: April 16, 2014



As the Brooklyn Nets embark on their 2014 playoff run, many fans are clinging to the hope that they will get an opportunity to face the Toronto Raptors in the opening round. The general consensus is that the neophyte status of the Atlantic Division Champions will be their Achilles Heel and that the Nets’ postseason experience will prove to be the difference maker.

If you proclaimed that the Raptors would fall off during the second half of the season, then you were clearly left with egg on your face. We all know how the Nets turned their season around once the calendar flipped to 2014, but during that same time period Toronto has compiled a 33-18 record. They have kept pace with the Nets and never faltered, with notable wins against Houston, Golden State, Indiana (twice), Dallas, and of course the Nets. Were you aware that the Raptors were 14-15 on New Year’s Eve and now stand to win 49 games?   I would say that’s pretty impressive, right?

As noted in one of my more recent posts, [The Nets Now Know That “There is No Tomorrow” ] I prefer facing the Chicago Bulls as opposed to our neighbors to the North. I realize that I am in the minority here, but my feelings of uneasiness are due to the overall makeup of the Raptor team. From watching the Nets closely all season long, they tend to struggle with teams that are athletic and/or big. The Raptors possess both of these qualities, and although we split the season series with them, Toronto has the ability to create a lot of match up problems.

Valanciunas's size may be problematic for the Nets on both offense and defense.

Valanciunas’s size may be problematic for the Nets on both offense and defense.

As for size, Raptors’ starters Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are the big, physical types that the Nets do not match up well with, especially when Kevin Garnett is out of the game. In Brooklyn’s 104-103 regular season loss to Toronto on January 27, Valanciunas showed how dominant he could be in route to a 20 point, 13 rebound performance. The Nets inability to rebound well and defend the paint could be a major disadvantage in a playoff series.

In terms of athleticism, there aren’t too many teams in the NBA that are as athletic on the perimeter. Toronto’s All Star DeMar DeRozan, who has averaged over 22 points per game, and Terrence Ross would be a challenge for the Nets to defend. Ross can be inconsistent at times, but don’t forget that he can stretch the floor with his three point shooting and can go off at any moment, like when he scored 51 points earlier this season against the Clippers.  A healthy Andrei Kirilenko will help, but you’d have to worry about Joe Johnson and Marcus Thornton.

The Raptors are a tough, gritty bunch and much of that stems from the heart of their leader, Kyle Lowry. In his four games against the Nets this season, he has averaged 22 points and 6 assists while shooting exactly 50% from the field (30 out of 60). As he showed in that January 27th contest, in which he scored 31 points, he has the ability to wreak havoc, score efficiently, and get inside the head of Deron Williams. To me, he has a little Nate Robinson in him and if Williams isn’t up to the challenge to match his intensity, the Nets will lose this pivotal match up.  This could determine who advances to the next round.

Finally, Toronto has a deep roster. When general manager, Masai Ujiri dealt Rudy Gay to Sacramento, the formula was very similar to the one he used when he traded Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Obviously, the other team was getting the most talented player in the deal, but in return he acquired a collection of players that could fill various roles. By trading away Gay, he not only alleviated Toronto from Gay’s contract, but in the process he built a very solid bench featuring Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, and Patrick Patterson.

Will Deron be able to match Lowry's intensity?

Will Deron be able to match Lowry’s intensity?

The Raptors are well coached under Dwane Casey, who definitely deserves consideration for the coach of the year honor. For a team that seemed to be overachieving early on and playing with a cloud of doubt over their heads for much of the season (as rumored Lowry deals loomed), he kept things together.

Toronto scores 101.3 points per game (13th overall) and allows just 98 (7th overall). They are top ten in both offensive rating (9th) and defensive rating (10th). Chicago, on the other hand, averages 93.6 (30th) but allows 91.8 (1st) points per game. They are 28th in offensive rating, but the second best in defensive rating.

No matter how you slice it, either of these teams will be a difficult challenge for the Nets. Could Toronto’s inexperience create jitters in Game 1? It’s possible, but once the series gets going, I expect those nerves to subside.

This isn’t last year anymore. The Nets won’t be playing 3 on 5 offensively and Chicago no longer has that pesky point guard that will get under the skin of the Nets and their fans. The player who matches that profile plays north of the border.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like our chances against either team, but if it were up to me, give me a street fight with the Bulls rather than a track meet with the Raptors.

As for my fellow Net fans, be careful what you wish for.