The Nets (10-13) take on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors (19-6) tonight, their first meeting since that thrilling Game 7 in the first round of last year’s playoffs which ended with Paul Pierce blocking Kyle Lowry’s game-winning shot attempt.
Since then, both teams have moved in opposite directions.
The Nets are coming off a disappointing home loss to the hands of the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat, in which they shot a putrid 39 percent and turned the ball over 17 times, which led to 20 Heat points.
Despite a last gasp effort which placed them two points behind with 35 seconds to play, the Nets fell short in front of a depleted Barclays Center which had already sat through a 30-minute rain delay due to a leaky roof.
When asked why his team had trouble stringing together wins, head coach Lionel Hollins simply stated: “Because we’re just not good enough.”
After viewing this game strewed with careless passes and countless missed lay-ups, it’s hard for fans to argue with that assessment, but the season will reveal to what degree.
The Nets are 1-8 against teams with a .500 record or better, and the Raptors are playing at as high a level this franchise’s fans has ever seen. Head Coach Duane Casey’s team has cooled off since starting the season 13-2, but have now won three in a row, and have begun to find their chemistry once again after losing star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to a torn tendon in his groin.
Lowry is the driving force behind the Raptors’ third ranked scoring offense, averaging 19.6 points and 7.6 assists per game. But much like last season’s 48-win team, the Raptors have found production from their depth, filling the scoring void left by DeRozan (who was averaging 19.4 points per game) from various sources, most notably their most prominent offseason addition, Lou Williams. Williams has given an added dimension of instant offense (14.6 points in 22.5 minutes per game) off the bench they have lacked through many stretches last season, including the series versus the Nets.
Lately, Casey has started ex-Knick Landry Fields with Lowry in the backcourt, along with starters Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, and Jonas Valanciunas up front, who are all having steady and productive years. But that’s the theme with this team; the Raptors have six different players averaging in double figures. Patrick Patterson, the 6’9” versatile forward who hurt the Nets in last year’s playoffs, has been one of general manager Masai Ujiri’s great finds, averaging 8.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and shooting 46.4 percent from three.
Guarding the versatile frontcourt of the Raptors will only get more difficult if Coach Hollins decides to sit Kevin Garnett on the rear end of back-to-back games which has been his strategy the past three instances. Garnett, despite only logging 21 minutes last night, snatched 10 rebounds to go along with Mason Plumlee’s 21 point, 9 rebound night.
It’s another early-season test for the Nets against a top-tier team that will test the armor of group that has failed in similar matchups. Sooner or later the worm must turn or changes could be forthcoming.
Tip-off is at 8:00 P.M. EST at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.