It's been a long time since a Brooklyn Nets victory. Six games, to be exact. It's similarly been a long time since the Nets have played a team they had a distinct, unwavering advantage over, that they should smack the snot out of while only breaking just enough sweat to exude the skills required by a professional basketball player.
Enter the 4-18 Toronto Raptors, who the Nets play tonight at 7 P.M. in Toronto. The Raptors, perpetually on Disney's Tower of Terror, are 1-11 in their last ten games, have the worst defense in the league, a bottom-5 offense, and they're suiting eight players tonight. So the Nets have a shot.
Joining me to talk about the NBA's sleepy basset hound Raptors is Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic, the Toronto Raptors ESPN TrueHoop Affiliate fame. Give him a follow for an opposing view on tonight's contest. I ask him three questions on the Raptors, he counters with three on the Brooklyn Nets and one exclamation about inventor of palindromes Jerry Stackhouse.
Blake Murphy on the Toronto Raptors
Devin: Man, the Raptors are sad. What's happening right now?
Blake: Everything and nothing. The team's two supposed best players got yelled at by teammates in a team meeting, because one (Bargnani) doesn't care and the other (Lowry) actually cares too much but doesn't trust anyone else. It's a mess, and with the GM blaming the players, not the roster construction, there's just a bad fog hanging over the entire organization. Changes will come, of course, first on the roster and then probably in the GM chair, but in the interim this has been torturous. We were supposed to be a playoff team (maybe)!
Devin: In the dark cloud that is Toronto basketball, what do you consider the silver linings?
Blake: Jonas Valanciunas is now AKA The Big Silver Lining, more or less. He hasn't been great, but compared to the expectations you'd normally have for a 20-year old European big man rookie, he's been outstanding. He plays so hard and does the basics just well enough that he's competent already, and there's huge upside here. Of course, advanced stats hate him so far, but a lot of that is because he's asked to do too much as the last line of defense and just isn't ready for that responsibility. He's going to be a very good player, and watching him develop has been the only bright spot so far this year.
Devin: Early on it appears that Andrea Bargnani has regressed. Is that true, or is it just a matter of sample size & adjustment?
Blake: It's a bit late to call it a small sample size, as much as I'd hope it is. He's historically been streaky for long stretches, but rarely has he sustained a streak this poor. The biggest problem is that his game hasn't changed at all - he's taking relatively the same shots, playing the same poor defense (he is okay as a man defender but horrific as a team defender), and with the same "extra" "optional" stats like "rebounds." The issue, then, if he hasn't fundamentally changed as a player, is that there's not really an easy fix - either the shots start dropping and he's back to being a 'take the bad with the good' kind of guy, or they don't, and he gets to be the lightning rod for fans. I want to be clear here - Andrea is not "the" problem or the only one, not even close, but you asked.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Blake: How awful does it feel that the legacy of Barclays Center will always be that the first game was against this Raptors team? BTW, how's the new digs working out?
Devin: It's not so bad. Fun fact: the first game in New York history in the NBA was on November 1st... in 1946... against the Toronto Huskies. So let's just say that history repeats itself. As far as Barclays Center, it's an interesting place. Architecturally, it's beautiful; it's The Black House. Its dark interior, stadium lighting, and high-angled rafters make it seem like you're watching a boxing match in 1967. I half-expect guys in dull gray suits and fedoras to smoke cigars and clap rapidly after each made basket. The crowd itself has its moments, but isn't *there* yet. Barclays pumps in enough noise to fill... well, an arena with sound, but the fans don't respond loudly enough yet. They just don't seem to care enough about free t-shirts and predetermined CGI races of Subway sandwiches. What they do care about, however, is winning. And when the games are close or just starting to pull away, the crowd knows how to react accordingly.
Blake: What is up with the shooting woes of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson? Did you ever envision Brook Lopez being the team's leading scorer?
Devin: Oh, absolutely. If Lopez could build an early chemistry with Deron Williams he'd drop 20 nightly, and when healthy, he has. Deron is a scorer-creator, but Lopez is a pure scorer. As for the shooting woes, with Williams it appears tied to his injuries. His wrist just hasn't been right since he joined the Nets, and in his own words, he feels that he hasn't had a good game yet this season. It's heartbreaking to watch him just rim out open threes like the ball's allergic to nylon. As for Johnson, it's less clear. He's gotten good shots, both inside and out, and just doesn't seem to make them. He's gotten slightly better as the year's gone on, but he's only had brief moments of fire.
Blake: Jerry Stackhouse. No question, just worth a mention.
Devin: JERRY! He's coming back down to earth after his ridiculous start, but he's a role player at its finest: wait for the defense to forget about you, and hit the corner 3. That's his role. If he's surrounded by players that can create, he's the best Matt Bonner the Brooklyn Nets could ever ask for.
Blake: Is there anything the Raptors can exploit to try to steal this one? The Raptors, if you aren't aware, have been terrible and the Nets have the advantage at every spot on the floor. Give me some hope!
Devin: You want hope? The Brooklyn Nets are in freefall. They've lost five in a row without Brook Lopez. They gave up a 17-point lead to New York, a 9-point lead to Milwaukee, a 13-point lead to Golden State, and 9-point halftime lead to Miami in the last four games. They've blown games in spectacular fashion rivaled only by Toronto. Toronto almost beat them opening night, and the Nets had Brook Lopez then! So in the "who can screw up the second half less" battle, the Raptors could easily sneak away with this one and it would not surprise me in the slightest.