Nets go for sixth straight against rival Raptors

One of 11 fantastic photos of Brook Lopez. (AP)
One of 11 fantastic photos of Brook Lopez. (AP)

The Brooklyn Nets’ (34-40) stellar play of late has put them in prime playoff position with just eight games remaining in the regular season. Thanks to Brook Lopez’s put-back with two seconds remaining, the Nets escaped Madison Square Garden on Wednesday with their season-high fifth straight win: a 100-98 victory over the New York Knicks. The Nets are now 10-1 this season in games decided by three or fewer points.

Despite relinquishing a 16-point second half lead, the Nets, thanks to Lopez’s 18 points and Deron Williams’s 26 points and seven assists, won their ninth of their last eleven games which suddenly leaves them all alone as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.

Tonight, the Nets begin the home stretch of the regular season against the closest thing they’ve got to a rival, the Toronto Raptors (45-30). With just seven games remaining on their schedule, Head Coach Duane Casey’s team is sitting pretty atop the Atlantic Division, having already clinched the title. They have aspirations of nailing down a higher seed: to begin the day, the Raptors are tied with the Chicago Bulls for the third seed in the East, and could be on a crash course for another rematch against the Nets. After tonight, the Raptors will play two games each against Boston and Charlotte, plus one in Miami. So in the end, the Raptors picking up the third seed with wins against those three teams could assist in clinching a spot for the Nets.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Raptors have won their last three games without their court leader, Kyle Lowry, who is still dealing with lingering back spasms that have kept him out of games since mid-March. Lowry is doubtful for tonight’s game.

On Wednesday, the Raptors shot a scorching 55.3 percent en route to a 117-99 over the defensively-challenged Minnesota Timberwolves. Lou Williams led the Raptors with 18 points off the bench, and Greivis Vasquez scored 14 points as Lowry’s replacement at point guard, including four three-pointers.

After losing their first two meetings against the Raptors, the Nets played one of their best games of the season on February 4th at Air Canada Centre. Jarrett Jack led the way with 26 points & six assists, and Alan Anderson notched a season-high 22 points as the Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 109-93. It was their most lopsided regular season win over the Raptors since February 2004.

Markel Brown should become more prominent within this newfound rivalry, after playing a combined 2 minutes in the previous three games between the two teams. In his last three games, Brown has averaged 13.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting (36.4 pct. from three-point range), along with four rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes per game. Yesterday, during a radio interview on WFAN, Hollins was quoted as saying: “I think we found our Tony Allen.” Hollins coached Allen, one of the NBA’s best wing defenders, for three seasons in Memphis.

What to watch for: Passing the rock. In all five games in this five-game winning streak, the Nets have dished out 20-plus assists. The Nets are 29-15 when they reach the 20-assist mark, and just 5-25 when they hand out 19 or fewer.

Tip-off is at 7:30 PM EDT at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.