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Nets try to avoid Raptors revenge game in Toronto

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets got themselves a rare low-anxiety comeback win against the Hawks on Wednesday. I say low-anxiety because despite their being down by a whole bunch (19 points at its worst) early in the game, we all knew the Hawks were going to lose their legs later in the game coming off the back-to-back and the Nets were just not hitting shots they should’ve hit. Everything corrected itself in time, and Brooklyn came away with a 116-100 victory. The second half score was 65-43, Brooklyn.

The Raptors have won three straight and eight of their last eleven. At 31-12 they’re a very close second in the Eastern Conference. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN at 7:30 pm, ET.

Injuries

Ugh, we have another one to add to the list. Jared Dudley injured his left hamstring during the second half of the Hawks game, and left almost immediately without returning. It also didn’t look terrible but he’s been declared out Friday. Let’s hope for the best.

He joins Caris LeVert (foot) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor) Allen Crabbe (knee) and Dzanan Musa (shoulder) as the injured Nets. Expect both two-ways back on the bench: Theo Pinson, who played 43 points Thursday for Long Island, and Alan Williams, was first waived then re-signed after a deal in China fell apart.

CJ Miles (hip) is day to day while Jonas Valanciunas is out for a few weeks with a thumb injury.

The Game

The last time these two met, the Nets took a 106-105 overtime win which finally finally finally ended their eight-game losing streak. It was a turning point in the season and one of the team’s better wins. Replicating that success is going to be difficult ... but not impossible.

Toronto is, by any measure, one of the best teams in the league. The Kawhi Leonard gamble has paid off and their defense is one of the most ruthless in the league, holding opponents to 107.9 points per game with a 107 Defensive Rating. They also possess the fifth best True Shooting Percentage in the league at 57.5% and round out their attack with 11.3 threes per game.

Their biggest threats, other than Kawhi who will get his own paragraph because he deserves one, are Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and the injured Valanciunas. They also have just a ton of great role players like Danny Green, Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell. So many team players who know the system and play hard make for a tough opponent on any night, even when Kawhi sits. They’re 6-2 when The Claw gets some rest.

Serge Ibaka is having the best season of maybe his entire career, putting up 16.1 points, grabbing 7.3 boards, and blocking 1.4 shots per game. He’s still a good defender and he’s abandoned the idea that he can be a volume three-point shooter. Trying to do too much can sometimes hinder a players actual skills. He and Pascal Siakam make for a formidable frontcourt duo. Siakam is having a breakout season basically doubling his scoring from 7.3 to 15 points per game, shooting 57 percent from the field and 34 percent from deep, and just generally playing good, hard, smart basketball.

One of the keys to the Nets success in the December matchup was holding Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and Fred Van Vleet to just 13 combined points. D’Angelo Russell put up 29, 5 and 5 and Spencer Dinwiddie had 17 points and 8 assists. It’s quite clear which backcourt won that match-up. Holding those three players to such a low scoring total isn’t going to happen again, but some more containment of Toronto’s guards will be necessary considering the Nets weakened big man rotation. The Raptors added another guard Thursday, Patrick McGraw, formerly of the Warriors and Cavaliers.

With Jared Dudley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both hurt, there are going to be some extra big man minutes to be thrown around. One possibility is playing Treveon Graham at the 4. Another answer, and my preferred one, is just playing Ed Davis a whole bunch of minutes. The former Raptor is averaging 11.5 points and 17.5 rebounds per 36 minutes and the team just plays great when he’s out there. He has an insane 129 Offensive Rating and 106 Defensive Rating and those numbers pass the eye test. His rebounding, his screens, his ability to defend. The team just moves well with Ed on the court. Play him a ton and see what happens.

Another advantage the Nets might use is their ability to drive and draw fouls. Ibaka and Siakam are good, but they’re both prone to sending shooters to the line and the Nets rank first in the league in drives per game and fifth in the league in free throws attempted, hitting 18.9 per game. Free points are great, so look for Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, the Nets two leading free throw takers not counting Caris (get well SOON), to get to the line in this one.

Player To Watch

Told you Kawhi was going to get his own section. The dream free agent signing for plenty of Nets fans, Kawhi is proving to the league that he is still a legitimate superstar. He’s scoring a career high 27.3 points per game and really doesn’t look like he’s lost too much explosiveness on offense or mobility on defense.

I mean, he’s 27 anyway, unless your name is LeBron James that bounce is going to start fading at some point. Kawhi’s game has always been foundationally sound enough to handle a loss of a bit of athleticism, and he’s still a nightmare individual defender as well as an efficient scorer. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 36 percent from deep while taking 7.8 free throws and converting 84 percent of them. He’s an MVP candidate, period.

Every Nets fan has in either the back or front of their minds the idea the Nets might be able to go out and sign Kawhi this summer. It doesn’t seem that crazy especially if we’re operating in a future where Kawhi is leaving the Raptors.

There aren’t that many teams that will even be able to afford him, and the Nets will probably have a meeting at the very least. Much has been made about his tangential ties to Brooklyn with the Spurs connection and whatever is going on with Uncle Dennis, but the biggest draw will be the basketball. If the Nets go out and get another win against Toronto on Friday, it can’t hurt their case.

From The Vault

Winning the seven game playoff series against the Raptors in 2014 was easily one of the best moments of my Nets fandom.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Raptors HQ, our sister on SB Nation.