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Nets make an up north trip

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors - Game Four Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Not quite. The Nets were in Philadelphia on Sunday evening and played a competitive game against the 76ers. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get over the hump and lost. This is the last game of a three game road trip for the Nets. After this, the Nets go home to face death the Warriors on Thursday night.

Waiting for the Nets will be the defending Atlantic Division champions. The Raptors were expected to be near the top of the Eastern Conference and they’ve held up their end of the bargain. They smoked the Magic by 30 points on Sunday. This is the last time the home fans will see the Raps in person this year. After this, they hit the road for a six game road trip that will take them to: Utah, Portland, Golden State, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Antonio. Should be some great basketball on display coming up.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WCBS 880 AM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

Justin Hamilton will return and Jeremy Lin may or may not be on a minutes restriction. Brook Lopez will be given this game off to rest. No word whether Chris McCullough will be called up from Long Island.

Jared Sullinger is still recovering from preseason foot surgery and is out for this game.

The game

The Nets have one of the league’s worst defenses and they’re facing a team that might end up with one of the best offensive efficiency ratings in league history. The Raptors can score from anywhere on the court and are top two in overall field goal percentage, three point percentage, free throws rate, and free throw percentage. They force a lot of turnovers and make a killing in transition. The Nets play at the league’s fastest pace, but slowing it down might be the way to go tonight. Don’t want to have the Raptors run you out of the gym early.

With Lopez out, some former Raptors will be handling center duties for Brooklyn. Luis Scola will more than likely get the start and Anthony Bennett will see a lot of time backing him up. The duo will have their hands full with Jonas Valanciunas on the inside. Valanciunas is the team’s leading rebounder and a respectable rim protector. Missing Lopez takes away the Nets biggest source of offense. Lopez has been able to expand his range out to the three point line and has been a pretty solid passer at the center position.

Jeremy Lin is back and starting to look like the player he was before he went down to injury. When Lin is playing well, he can break defenses down, create good looks for the Nets’ three point shooters, and serve as a second scoring option if need be. He’s still on a minutes restriction, and that creates a big problem for Kenny Atkinson. The Nets have to deal with Kyle Lowry, Stephen Curry, and Kyrie Irving this week. First up is Lowry, who’s been having the best season of his career. He’s averaging career highs in points per game, field goal percentage and three point percentage. He’s gotten better each season he’s been a Raptor and is someone they can count on late in close games.

Depth is crucial for elite teams looking to survive the slog of the regular season, and the Raptors have one of the best bench units in the league. They are shooting 46.6 percent from the field (third best in the league) and holding opposing benches to 40.1 percent from the floor (best in the league). Players like Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, and Lucas Noguera provide a lot of valuable minutes and keep the Raptors in every game they play. The Nets bench is one of the league’s worst in the league and if Brooklyn falls behind after the first quarter, it might be it for their chances at pulling off an upset.

Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan

DeMar is a bit of a throwback, and I mean that in the best way possible. He’s never been a good three point shooter, so he doesn’t take them. Instinctively that sounds like common sense, but with teams de-emphasizing long two pointers, DeRozan is a bit of an outlier in today’s game. He takes 30 percent of his shots from 16 feet up to the three point line, and is shooting an impressive 39.6 percent on those shots. He isn’t just a jump shooter as he is a player that puts pressure on opposing defenses by constantly driving to the basket and drawing fouls. He might not reach the peak Vince Carter had, but if he keeps it up, he can be the best Raptor of all time.

Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis Jefferson will have the assignment of guarding DD. Kilpatrick has supplanted RHJ as the starting small forward and has done a pretty good job for the most part. He becomes too focused on getting his shots up sometimes and that tends to bog the offense down. As for RHJ, he’ll have a busy week chasing DeRozan, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James around. Merry Christmas to him.

From the Vault

We’re coming up on the 12 year anniversary of Vince Carter’s Nets debut. The move saved the Nets franchise.

More reading: Raptors HQ