2014 NBA Playoffs Preview: (6) Brooklyn Nets at (3) Toronto Raptors
The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors split their season series 2-2. The Raptors enter as the hotter team, as winners of nine of its past 12.
Brooklyn has lost four of its past five contests, and some even hinted the Nets were tanking intentionally to avoid a first round clash with the Chicago Bulls.
At early junctures in the season, it didn’t appear Brooklyn would come anywhere near achieving a playoff berth. The team started the season 10-21, but the new year brought new fortunes to Jason Kidd’s club. The Nets went 10-1 in January and from that point onwards looked as formidable as the team most thought it would be on paper.
The Nets boast strong veteran leadership with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams. While nearly every talent on the roster (perhaps save the injured Brook Lopez) is in the declining stages of his career, the playoffs are a time when experience is of paramount importance.
For all Pierce may lack in youth, he’s hit big shots in his career and when the game comes down to it and all is on the line, who would you prefer take the big shot, the Raptors DeMar DeRozan or Pierce? That, ultimately is a huge understory in this matchup: the Nets have a wealth of experience, while the Raptors are a young and untested group.
That said, the Raptors are a far better team than most credit it for. Kyle Lowry is perhaps the most underrated point guard in the league, and he impacts the game in so many ways, posting a well rounded stat line. DeRozan made his first All-Star appearance this year, and his emergence along with the development of Terrence Ross made Rudy Gay expendable this season.
The Raps have shed the contracts of Jose Calderon, Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, and are set favorably with young talent and picks to shape the next few seasons. Jonas Valanciunas is an exceptional young talent an could develop into a premier 5-man if he adds some weight.
Ultimately, though the Raptors are the higher seed, the Nets are the team more feared by other Eastern Conference opponents, and it’s primarily because it was a team constructed for playoff success.
The Nets have a lot of depth, too, while the Raptors are relatively thin, which will hurt over the course of a seven game series. Toronto is favored by three points according to NBA oddsmakers in Game One, which will be at the Air Canada Center. The Nets can make a big statement by stealing homecourt advantage in the first game of the series.