The wait is over. After sleepwalking through the final days of the regular season after clinching their playoff spot, the Brooklyn Nets open the 2014 Playoffs up north. At the beginning of the season, a lot of us were Championship dreaming. That isn't out of the question, but without Brook Lopez, the road to the Finals is gonna be a bit tougher.
Awaiting the Nets will be the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season and won the Division for the first time since 2006-2007. Throughout the offseason and at the beginning of the year, the teams pegged to win the Atlantic were the Knicks and Nets. Obviously, that didn't happen.
The teams met four times in the regular season and the series split.
But in Toronto, they're confident, as evidenced by the front page of the tabloid Toronto Sun. Talk about your bulletin board material!
The 2013-2014 season
Here's how these teams performed:
Offensive Rebounding percentage
Free throw rate
Effective Field Goal percentage
Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage
Everybody's ready to go. Jason Kidd rested Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson and a bunch of other Nets as they dealt with their nagging injuries. The Raptors are coming in at 100 percent.
When Garnett and Pierce (Jason Terry too but he's no longer here) came to Brooklyn last offseason, their experience was a major selling point. They both have two trips to the NBA Finals and tons of games and tons of games played in the other series. This was Garnett's worst season as a professional, but his play was much, much, much (I seriously can't emphasize this enough) once he moved over to Center. He's only crossed the 30 minute mark once this year and I do wonder how long he's going to play. As for Pierce, he's settled into his role as the second option on the Nets offense. After his initial struggles, Pierce rebounded and shot 37 percent from three point range, good for fourth best on the team.
Throughout his career, Joe Johnson has under-performed in the postseason. Last year, injuries slowed him down and it culminated in a disastrous Game Seven loss at home to Chicago. He doesn't appear to be seriously injured coming into this series and he'll look to continue the success he's had this season. Johnson averaged 15.8 points on a true shooting percentage of 56.4 percent, a career high. What helped him and the Nets offense was his success from deep. He had a few record breaking evenings along the way as he shot a career high (and team high) 40.1 percent from deep. I think he'll have a good amount of success when he gets into the post. He has the size advantage over both Terrance Ross and Demar DeRozan and should look to take advantage of that and get to the free throw line.
After Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento, Demar DeRozan began to flourish. Back in January, Raptors HQ manager told our own Dennis Velasco:
Truth be told, I was never a big believer in DeMar DeRozan. Not that he didn't work extremely hard to try to improve his game, but even based on his play at USC in college, I always thought he was too inefficient and one-dimensional to be an impact player in the NBA. However I'm thrilled to be wrong on this one as this season, we're starting to see the player Bryan Colangelo may have thought he was drafting back in 2009. We're now seeing a player who is much more efficient as a scorer, does a better job creating for teammates (especially post-Rudy Gay), and who contributes in other areas rather than simply scoring, each night. He's still got a ways to go on D, and needs to continue to improve his long-range shooting, but he's certainly an All-Star possibility this season, something I would have said was a ridiculous thought, prior to this campaign.
DeRozan went on to make the All Star Game and averaged 23 points after Gay departed. Where DeRozan is most effective is when he drives to the basket. He does it seven times a night and gets five points a game off of them. What the Nets will look to do is keep DeRozan on the perimeter. He's been solid from the midrange (39 percent is right around league average), but he's much more effective at the basket, making 64 percent of those shots. He's only shooting 30 percent from three point range, but he's much more successful shooting from the corners.
Outside of his DUI arrest, it's been a pretty nice year for sophomore Jonas Valancianus. He only missed one game, saw a dramatic increase in his minutes per game and had a bigger role in the Raps' offense. He's also managed to play well in the four matchups with Brooklyn in the regular season. In about 25 minutes a night, he averaged 10 points and eight rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor. He's had some success in the high post, but he's most effective crashing the glass. JV is one of the better rebounders in the Association, and that could pose a problem for Brooklyn. The Nets didn't rebound well throughout the season and if they're not forcing turnovers, that lack of success could hurt. Andray Blatche has struggled lately so Mason Plumlee might be the first big man off the bench. Valancianus has a foul problem (tenth in total fouls) and that will help Blatche when he and Valancianus are in the game at the same time.
Player to watch: Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been one of the better point guards in the Association since he became a full time starter in 2010, and he's managed to become even better. The former Rocket set career highs in turnover rate, true shooting percentage, minutes, assists and points. He's certainly earned consideration for the All-NBA teams. Coming into the year, there was talk that the Raptors might move him and rebuild. Luckily, that didn't happen and he's been flourishing.
Like the Clippers-Warriors and Thunder-Grizzlies games later in the day, the point guard matchup promises to be excellent. Mini-slump near the end of the year aside, Deron Williams had a very good second half. He shot a little bit worse as compared to the first half, but managed to cut down on the turnovers. Like Johnson and a lot of other Nets, Williams had a sour ending to the 2013 playoffs. He wasn't as active on offense as we're accustomed to, but he'll be looking for his shot here. Shaun Livingston figures to start off covering Lowry, and he hasn't had that much success against him this year. According to our pal (and site founder!) John Schumann, Lowry has shot 15-26 against Brooklyn's (remixed) Backcourt. The level of play will be much more physical as compared to the regular season and that should help Williams/Livingston out.
From the Vault
Slide on back to the 2007 playoffs and see Jason Kidd in action against the Raptors.
More reading: Raptors HQ
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Toronto Raptors Game Notes - Toronto Raptors
- Nets-Raptors Preview - Ian Harrison - AP
- Jason Kidd Interview (Video) - Isaiah Thomas - NBA.com
- Kyle Lowry on playing against Kevin Garnett (Video) - Matt Stucko - YES Network
Raptors Kyle Lowry on defending Nets Deron Williams (Video) - Matt Stucko - YES Network
- Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd entering uncharted territory - Ohm Youngmisuk - ESPN New York
- Brooklyn Nets deny tanking, say they were trying to get team healthy - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- Scout: Predictable offense an issue for Nets - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- D-Will 'motivated' to stand out in playoffs - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- 2014 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference first-round forecast - ESPN
- Nets Enter Playoffs With Toughness Spawned by Last Year’s Exit - Andrew Keh - New York Times
- Raptors vs. Nets: Superior Season Meets Seasoned Roster - Beckley Mason - New York Times
- Nets Face Test in Toronto, But They Are No Underdog - Alex Raskin - Wall Street Journal
- 2014 NBA Playoffs: The Brooklyn Nets' experience will be the difference against Toronto in the first round - Dave D'Alessandro - Star-Ledger
- 2014 NBA Playoffs: D'Alessandro's first-round previews - Dave D'Alessandro - Star-Ledger
- Breaking down the Nets-Raptors NBA Eastern Conference first-round series matchups - Rod Boone - Newsday
- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce agree: Nets can beat anyone in East - Rod Boone - Newsday
- Shaun Livingston and his toe are ready for Nets Game 1 - Tim Bontemps - New York Post
- The youthful, energetic Raptor who awaits old man Paul Pierce - Fred Kerber - New York Post
- Did the Nets tank? Here’s what the Raptors think - Tim Bontemps - New York Post
- The Nets legacy of Deron Williams comes down to one thing - Mike Vaccaro - New York Post
- Nets hope to lean on experience vs. young Raptors - Andy Vasquez - The Record
- Nets vs. Raptors: Round 1 breakdown - Andy Vasquez - The Record
- Nets' Shaun Livingston ready to play - Andy Vasquez - The Record
- Nets shrug off Toronto Raptors' tanking chatter ahead of Game 1 of NBA playoff series - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Veteran stars should carry Nets past Raptors - Mitch Lawrence - New York Daily News
- SNY Nets staff predicts the first round series - Josh Newman - SNY Nets
- Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors: OFFICIAL PLAYOFF PREVIEW - Devin Kharpertian - The Brooklyn Game
- How to Beat the Raptors: A Preview - Jason Schott - Brooklyn Fans
- Brooklyn Nets- Playoffs 2014 - GMJigga - Youtube.com
- Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets: Doug Smith's NBA playoff series analysis - Doug Smith - Toronto Star
- Raptors in the playoffs: An oral history - Doug Smith - Toronto Star
- Raptors vs. Nets NBA playoff breakdown - Mike Ganter - Toronto Sun
- Raptors' DeMar DeRozan looks to avoid struggles of previous Toronto stars in post-season debut - Ryan Wolstat - Toronto Sun
- Raptors' Amir Johnson will be a key player in series against Nets - Ryan Wolstat - Toronto Sun
- Nets deny theory that they tried to set up playoff meeting with Raptors - Frank Zicarelli - Toronto Sun
- Raptors playoff history - a look at previous post-season appearances - Frank Zicarelli - Toronto Sun
- Even-keeled Raptors downplay trash talk vs. Nets - Ryan Wolstat - Toronto Sun
- Nets' Shaun Livingston battles back from severe injury to make impact - Frank Zicarelli - Toronto Sun
- Outdoor bleachers set up for Raptors' playoff run - Ryan Wolstat -Toronto Sun
- Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets: How the teams match up - Eric Koreen - National Post