Nets meet Raptors in Brooklyn

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

This contest figures to be much less emotional than yesterday's. Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett made their returns to Boston and the Nets were able to extend their winning streak to five with a 85-79 win. The Nets are at 20-22 and a half game behind Washington for the sixth seed in the East ... and only two and a half out of third

The opponent for this Monday night affair will be the first place Toronto Raptors. The Raptors had won two straight but lost to the Clippers at home on Saturday night. More importantly for the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan had to leave the game due to a sprained ankle. X-rays came back negative but he will not be playing in this game.

This marks the first time Toronto has come to Brooklyn and the Nets will try to avenge their 16 point loss in Toronto two weeks ago. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, this is the second time they're playing Toronto on night two of a back-to-back. And when they play Toronto again on March 10, they'll once again be on the second night of a back-to-back, except in that one they won't have to travel the day before.

The season so far

What's the story with the top two teams in the Atlantic? Let's check it out:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Toronto

Record

20-22 22-21

Pace

93.5 94.61

Offensive Efficiency

103.1 104

Defensive Efficiency

105.1 100.8

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23.2 27.7

Turnover rate

15.4 15.1

Assist rate

16.7 16

Rebound rate

48.5 51

Free throw rate

31.6 30

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.9 48.8

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.3 49.3

It'll be interesting to see how Deron Williams plays in this one. This is the second time he's played a back-to-back since his return from the ankle injury. Williams has seen his minutes increase in each game he's appeared in and played 37 minutes against Boston.

I wouldn't read too much into Pierce's game last night. As he mentioned after the game, this was the toughest game of his career & he was in a setting that was extremely emotional. In a game that is more normal compared to that one, he should be good to go.

With DeRozan out, look for Terrence Ross to play a bigger role in the offense. Ross is coming off the best game of his career on Saturday night, scoring a career high 51 points (with 10 three pointers!!!) and nine rebounds in a loss to the Clippers. Although the Raps have better defensive numbers when he's not in the game, he is earning the reputation of being Toronto's best perimeter defender. He'll have a good challenge going against Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.

Another player the Nets have to keep an eye on is Kyle Lowry. He's having an All Star caliber season running the Toronto offense, averaging close to eight assists a night to only two turnovers and converting on a career high 39.5 percent from three point range. Lowry is also one of the better rebounding guards in the Association, and the Nets aren't one of the better rebounding teams in the league this year so look for Lowry to be active on the glass. With Williams back, Lowry will have a tough challenge on his hands although he'll start off with Shaun Livingston.

Player to watch: Jonas Valancianus

With the stakes getting higher, the second year man is having a pretty good season. In 28 minutes a night, he is averaging around 10 points and 9 rebounds a night. The overwhelming majority of his offense comes from the inside as 81 percent of his field goal attempts come from close range. He's shooting worse compared to last season and Raptors Republic's Tim W sought to find out why:

Going strictly from watching Valanciunas, he seems to be forcing more shots than last year, and getting fewer within the flow of the offense (he’s in danger of becoming a ball stopper on offense). And while he’s added strength, he seems to be getting his shot blocked much more this year than last year (there are probably stats available for this, but I’m not sure where to find them)*, and against the Bucks last night he got his shot blocked three times in one sequence. While he’s gained strength, I’m guessing more is necessary in order to power through many of those blocks for a dunk and foul.

*His hunch was correct as Valancianus has been blocked 38 times this season as compared to 30 last year.

He and the Raptors have helped propel Toronto into the top six in defensive efficiency. They're only allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions and goad opponents into turning the ball over 16 percent of the time. Along with this, the Raptors do a good job of preventing shots inside the restricted area and from deep, two key tenets of team defense. When teams do get to the basket when Valancianus is in the game, they shoot 49 percent, a decent mark that can stand to improve.

Kevin Garnett (if he plays) will look to keep him busy in this contest. Valancianus has been one of the better players on the offensive glass this season while KG has been the best on the defensive glass. Garnett's offense is primarily based on the perimeter so he'll (as well as Andray Blatche & Teletovic when they're on the court with Jonas) look to draw Valancianus outside and limit his rebounding opportunities. On the other side, Garnett will look to throw him off his rhythm on offense. As we mentioned earlier, Valancianus operates primarily on the inside and Garnett's post defense has been very good lately. Valancianus does commit four fouls on a per 36 minute basis so look for Williams and Kirilenko to drive at him whenever the opportunity presents itself.

From the Vault

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's return to Boston was very, very emotional. This one was emotional, but of a different kind. Head on back to April of 2005 and watch Vince Carter make his return to Toronto.


More reading: Raptors HQ

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