Can they keep rolling? The Brooklyn Nets take on the Toronto Raptors tonight, at 7:30 P.M. EST at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Nets have won the previous two matchups against Toronto this season, and have yet to lose to a team with a sub-.500 record this year. The Raptors aren't very good, but they've improved substantially -- they're 10-4 since beginning the season on a 4-19 tailspin.
Joining me to talk about tonight's Nets-Raptors matchup is Toronto Raptorologist James Herbert. James, along with his work as a featured writer at SB Nation and Hardwood Paroxysm, is Toronto-based and follows the Raptors perhaps as closely as anyone in the universe.
James Herbert on the Toronto Raptors
Devin: The Nets have won the first two matchups between these teams, they've won eight of nine since P.J. Carlesimo took over, and still haven't lost to a team under .500. Are you confident that the Raptors can pull off an upset/make the game interesting?
James: The Raptors can pull off an upset, but it would surprise me. They've played much, much better and more aesthetically pleasing ball since the last time these two teams met -- actually, even though the Raptors lost that game, that was the first game with Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani out of the starting lineup and it was really the turning point of their season -- but, with the exception of Houston, they have not beaten any team I'd describe as "good". The Nets seem like a good team right now and that is a problem (#analysis).
It could totally be interesting, however. These Raptors tend to play hard and share the ball, which is enough to keep things competitive for most of the game most of the time. It's just hard for them to beat teams that generally find it way easier to manufacture good looks than they do.
Devin: How have Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon coexisted? Is that a successful partnership for the Raptors going forward?
James: This is complicated. It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen not too long ago, but Lowry has come back from injury and accepted his bench role without complaint. This is good and bad: when Toronto was losing, his tendency to do things himself at the expense of getting his teammates involved was seen as a problem. That isn't the case anymore. What's weird is over the last three games Lowry has only taken a total of 12 shots and scored 11 points. When these teams met in early November, Lowry took 19 shots and scored 28 points. He's the most talented player on the team, but lately he hasn't been playing assertively and his minutes have dwindled with Calderon playing such good offensive basketball. They need better balance from Lowry because he can get in the paint and get the opposing team in the penalty unlike anyone else on the roster.
Oh, is it a successful partnership going forward? I doubt it. I think they'll have to pick one at some point.
Devin: Ed Davis looked fantastic in the last game these two teams played. What are your thoughts on him as a player, and how can he affect an opponent like Brooklyn?
James: I love the way he's stepped up. Davis worked extremely hard in the summer so he'd be ready for more minutes if the opportunity presented itself. Early in the season, it looked like it might have been for naught because of the Raptors' crowded frontcourt. But with Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas out of the lineup, we've seen a bit of a mini-Josh Smith/Al Horford type thing in Toronto with Davis and Amir Johnson starting together. Their chemistry on both ends has been great, they both run the floor hard and rebound and finish deftly around the hoop. I think as long as you aren't expecting to be able to dump the ball to Davis in the post and have him turn into Zach Randolph, you should be pretty impressed with him. He'll make Brooklyn work on the inside to keep him off the glass.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
James: The Nets are winning! How much is it because P.J. Carlesimo is magic? Do you think P.J. has been better for Deron Williams?
Devin: I'm not sure that P.J. Carlesimo holds some sort of magic elixir, but there's no doubt that the team has looked leaps and bounds better under his tutelage. Yes, they've mostly played bad teams, but they also blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder, dismantled the Indiana Pacers with a shocking fourth-quarter strategy adjustment, and are the only undefeated team when they play below-.500 competition.
So it's different. How much of the difference is to lay at P.J. Carlesimo's feet or Deron Williams's wrist, I couldn't tell you. But Carlesimo's basketball mind has never been questionable, and Williams has taken -- and made -- better shots since he took over. That's all I'm trying to understand at this point.
James: Please rank the following: Brook Lopez's basketball-playing ability, Brook Lopez's endearing nerd charm, Brook Lopez's voice. ALSO: Is there any good reason Lopez can't be the starting center AND the mascot? Still not feeling the BrooklyKnight over here.
Devin: First comes Brook Lopez's ability. As unbelievable as his Andre the Giant-voice seems at times, and as hilarious and wonderful his devotion to comic books is, he's only top-50 in the world at one of these things, and that's the one that involves placing an orange sphere through a red ring with nylon hung below it. A close second comes his charm, if only because it led to him and his twin brother (Brook Robert and Robert Byron are their names, by the way) to writing comic books, and a comic book co-written by the Lopez twins gives his charm the edge.
I refuse to comment on the BrooklyKnight unless he comes within 200 yards, in which I immediately notify the proper authorities.
James: Let's say "MarShon" was a verb. If I was to, say, MarShon something/someone, or go for a nice MarShon, what would I be doing?
Devin: Whatever it is, you'd be doing it at what seems like 70% speed but finishing faster and more effectively than 95% of your competition. Unless Avery Johnson is your coach. Then you'd be sitting.