The NBA regular season is over and the opening round of the playoffs are set. One of the more intriguing match ups in the East is the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets. After sitting Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in their regular season finale, the Nets fell to the sixth seed and got the opening round opponent that many people believe they wanted in the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors and Nets took very different paths to the NBA playoffs this year and both defied expectations. The Raptors, who put together a record of 34-48 last season, came into 2014 with low expectations. After they traded Rudy Gay, many expected the Raptors to fall into the race for the draft lottery
Instead, the Raptors went in the opposite direction. With the departure of Gay, the Raptors remade their team identity into a defensive minded club and focused on ball movement. Following what is now simply referred to as “The Trade” the Raptors had five players averaging double-digit scoring.
The Raptors ended the regular season in the third seed in the East with a franchise record 48 wins and 34 losses. They went on to win the second Atlantic Division title in franchise history. This year will mark Toronto’s first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season.
The Brooklyn Nets were at the opposite end of the spectrum coming into this NBA season. Following the blockbuster offseason acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets quickly rose as one of the favorites to challenge the Miami Heat in the East. Under rookie head coach, Jason Kidd, the Nets struggled mightily in the early goings of the season, as they stumbled out of the gate to a 10-21 record.
Luckily for the Nets, the NBA regular season is a marathon and not a sprint. Jason Kidd rallied his team and the Nets finished the season strong with a record of 34-17 and clinched the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors and Nets played some hard-fought regular season games this year, as the two teams split the season series 2-2. Three of their four matchups were decided by five points or less, including a miraculous steal and score by Patrick Patterson with six seconds left to give the Raptors a 104-103 victory earlier in the year. The Nets bring the playoff experience into this playoff recipe, while the Raptors bring a youthful team hungry for playoff success.
One of the similarities between these two teams is that they rely heavily on their shooting guards to score. Both DeMar DeRozan and Joe Johnson were selected to the All-Star team this year, and both lead their squads in scoring. DeRozan averaged 22.7 points on 43.0 percent shooting in the regular season, while Johnson averaged 15.8 points on 46 percent shooting. Expect the battle of the two guards to play a huge role in this opening round battle in the East.
Despite having the lower seed in this match up, the Nets actually appear to be favorites in part due to their playoff experience. After all, the last time the Nets won a playoff series was in the opening round of the 2006-07 season. The then New Jersey Nets defeated the Raptors in six games. There is no doubt that the Nets hold the edge in experience, as Paul Pierce alone has more playoff games under his belt than the entire Raptors roster combined.
But the Raptors are hungry, and so are their loyal fans. If the regular season was a prelude to this series, expect a physical battle with games coming down to the final few minutes; no thirty-point blowouts in this one. Despite the lack of postseason experience, look for the Raptors to ride the momentum of the franchise’s best season and reverse the script of their 2006-07 series, and knock out the Nets in six games.
The Raptors and Nets will open up the playoffs in Toronto on Saturday at 12:30 EST. Winter may be over, but the NBA playoffs are coming.
Commentary By Eric Kummel