1) Toronto Raptors
The Nets-Raptors first-round playoff matchup last season caught the attention of the average NBA fan. The contempt and disgust between the players was evident. For instance, when Andray Blatche guaranteed a Nets win in 7 after Toronto took the commanding 3-2 series lead, DeMar DeRozan fired back saying “I don’t care what he said. He can say what he wants, honestly. He can go out there and say he’s going to hit the lottery tomorrow.”
The Nets did end up keeping Blatche’s promise, but it wasn’t easy. That’s how a rivalry should be; two teams separated by rancor that simply won’t give anything but their all.
How close were these two teams? Here’s the final cumulative score in four regular season games and seven playoff games: Nets 1,070, Raptors 1,070. Can’t make that up.
Every NBA team battles their divisional counterparts, but that isn’t enough to define two teams as enemies. That’s the equivalent of calling the Nets and 76ers rivals, and unless you still contemplate 35+ year-old Julius Erving regrets, that would be deemed blasphemous.
Toronto and Brooklyn are different. They clash heads consistently in that division. In 2004, the Raptors traded a disgruntled Vince Carter to the then-New Jersey Nets, sending the Raptors into rebuilding mode and setting the stage for two game-winners on the road in front of Raptors fans, including one of the best regular season Nets games ever.
In 3 of the last 5 seasons, the Nets and Raptors records were separated by no more than 4 games, and 2 of those seasons it was under two games. Talk about April playoff pushes.
Since we embarked on the new millennium, 15 seasons of ruthless Nets-Raptors games have flown by. Their record: 30-29 Nets.
In that time period, the Nets have met their division enemies in the playoffs twice, both in the first round. New Jersey and then Brooklyn, respectively took each series, but the fans were rewarded with a hard-fought crusade nonetheless. The first series finished 4-2, and last year’s went seven games.
That is what a rivalry is. Tradition. Competition. Hatred. The Lakers and Celtics are a popular example of a rivalry in name, but the Nets and Raptors have managed to fly under the radar up until now. Masai Ujiri’s “F*** Brooklyn!” episode followed by Paul Pierce’s series-winning block on Kyle Lowry shined the lights on the two last season, and fans are finally feeling the same discord that the players have for years. Don’t forget Drake stoking the fires with his lint-free pants.
As the two initiate on their push for a 2015 Atlantic Division title, expect heated emotions and tested egos. The Raptors are the favorites. Can the Nets steal it?