Three Keys To Victory In Nets-Raptors

Rudy Gay; DeMar DeRozan
Rudy Gay & DeMar DeRozan try to protect Toronto’s home court against Brooklyn. (AP)
Rudy Gay; DeMar DeRozan
Rudy Gay & DeMar DeRozan try to protect Toronto’s home court against Brooklyn. (AP)

At 6-7, the Toronto Raptors sit in first place in the Atlantic Division. That is not a typo.

At 3-10, the Brooklyn Nets are almost the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Also not a typo.

Even so, somehow, in this bizarre universe, the Nets are three games out of first place.

A mid-November matchup between division rivals has never been more important. Without Deron Williams, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Brook Lopez once again, Brooklyn needs… something.

Unfortunately, not even the Brooklyn Nets know what that something is.

After Sunday’s loss to Detroit, Kevin Garnett said: “To be honest, I can’t even put my finger on it. If I knew, I would share with the guys in here [the locker room]. It’s an ongoing thing and it’s something that I don’t know.”

While Garnett may not know what’s going, here’s our three things to watch for in tonight’s game against Toronto.

Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay (AP)
1. Ignore the statistics. While many people are quick to point out Garnett’s lackluster averages (6.5 points and 7.9 rebounds on .349% shooting), it’s his miserable defense that has hurt Brooklyn the most. Kevin Garnett has quickly transformed from one of the league’s best defenders to a lost one. On a team that already must play Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche in the paint, two members of the All-NBA Missed Assignment team, they will not find success until Garnett improves on defense.

Late Monday night, Toronto’s Rudy Gay banned stat sheets from the Raptors locker room. Although it may just seem like a ploy to distract his teammates from realizing he’s shooting 35% from the field, Gay’s gesture has potential to change the team’s culture. For a team with incredibly low expectations coming into the season, Gay has stressed the importance of a team game over an individual performance. Tonight, those are the stats that matter.

Shaun Livingston, John Wall
Shaun Livingston (AP)
2. Shaun Livingston. Livingston suffered a head contusion against Detroit and missed the rest of the game. While he’s been cleared to play, it’s uncertain as to whether or not his symptoms will affect his play. Already missing Jason Terry and Deron Williams, the Nets cannot suffer another loss at guard.

If Livingston cannot play or re-injures his head, the Nets will either have to deploy Tyshawn Taylor or Alan Anderson at point guard. For a team that has (or had?) championship aspirations, playing Taylor major minutes would be a huge hit.

Against the spry, athletic Kyle Lowry, Livingston will have his hands full once again. Deron Williams’ injury has extended Livingston’s minutes big time, and he’s struggled as a starter, shooting under 35 percent from the field. Even without injury, expect Taylor to log some serious minutes tonight.

Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd (AP)
3. Kidd’s adjustments. Coach Kidd acknowledged the Nets’ downright embarrassing 3rd quarter against the Detroit by Pistons benching his starters to open the 4th quarter, running out backups Tyshawn Taylor, Alan Anderson, Toko Shengelia, Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee, and they responded. It was short-lived, but it gave a glimpse of what this team has on the bench.

The Toronto Raptors are a young team. The Brooklyn Nets’ starting lineup has not fared well against young teams (See: Washington, Phoenix, Sacramento, etc). If Coach Kidd forces the starters again, this could be another blowout waiting to happen. To have a chance tonight, Brooklyn must be able to adjust to quick and speedy Raptors squad that boasts high-flyers like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross and the best way to do so is by playing the bench.

If things aren’t going well, Kidd must not be afraid to make some changes. The bench may not be better than the starters, but if they’re working harder on the victory, they should see the court.

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