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Nets begin their playoff journey against the defending NBA Champion Raptors

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Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s a brand new world, and everyone’s making the most of it. For the Brooklyn Nets, the bubble experience has been beyond their wildest dreams and they come into the playoffs on a high.

Last summer, the Toronto Raptors shocked the world and won the NBA Championship. They’re looking different these days, but they’re just as dangerous and are one of the favorites to go on a deep run this year.

Where to follow the game

ESPN and WFAN 101.9 FM got us covered. Tip off is after 4:00 PM. Officially, this is a Raptors home game, but it’s being played more than 2,000 miles to the South. The New York Times reports that the “NBA is relying on a database of music, audio cues and graphics to help teams feel at home.”

Injuries

Let’s do the big run down. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and Nicolas Claxton are not in the bubble as they deal with various situations that kept them out. Jamal Crawford is out with a hamstring injury.

Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, and Oshae Brissett are listed as game time decisions, but everybody figures to be good to go today.

The game

Jacque Vaughn and friends will have their hands full defending Pascal Siakam. Siakam has naturally grown into the role of leading man and is the key to Toronto’s future.

Jarrett Allen will be handling the boards for the Nets. As the lone big man on the roster, he’ll be the one responsible for tussling with Ibaka and Marc Gasol. The Raps were one of the best rebounding teams in the bubble and that will pose some trouble for Allen. The Nets lack of size did manifest in teams shooting a league high 70.7 percent against them inside the bubble. Toronto didn’t finish well at the rim inside the bubble, but that could change if the Nets aren’t careful.

Joe Harris will be crucial to Brooklyn’s hopes of pulling off the upset. He didn’t have much success against the Philadelphia 76ers last playoffs, but he’s a much better player this time around. In the bubble, Harris played the best ball of his career as he continued to add to his repertoire on offense. My man Matt Brooks has more:

Rather than overexerting the marksman-turned-playmaker with excess ball-handling responsibilities that can and will decease his overall efficiency, like we saw in January, Vaughn is allowing Harris to create for teammates through the use of his ever-purring motor, beefy frame, and basketball IQ, all to the tune of 20.2 points per game on ridiculous 74.7% true shooting. If you didn’t already know, the man is the pinnacle of efficiency. Goodness gracious, he’s more than just a shooter!

The Raps have a bunch of rangy, athletic defenders they can throw at Harris, including our old friend Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Brooklyn doesn’t have many players that can go get their own shot, so having Harris playing well is essential.

Some news off the court. Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin is facing allegations of domestic violence against his ex-wife, Audrey. He and the team have released a statement regarding the matter. Griffin has been mentioned as a possible head coach for a number of teams.

If you want a little more Nets-Raptors coverage, Matt Brooks and I chopped it up with the good folks at Raptors Republic. Check it out!

Player to watch: Kyle Lowry

Since joining the Raptors in 2012, Lowry has been the anchor for the franchise. He and Demar DeRozan brought the franchise back to respectability and made them a solid contender for many years in the Eastern Conference. When their window shut, Lowry teamed with Kawhi Leonard to bring a title to the North. Now, he and Siakam will be the duo to lead the Raps into the next era. When Lowry hangs it up, he’ll have the Hall of Fame and jersey retirement awaiting him.

In the meantime, he’s continued to play well for Nick Nurse. He’s kept his turnovers down, which is crucial for a team that didn’t score as much in the bubble (Toronto was 18th in offensive efficiency during the eight game restart). The Raps were able to hold their own while Lowry was off the floor, so as the series progresses, he won’t have to play huge minutes.

It’s star time. Caris LeVert was named second team All-Bubble, and it was a well deserved honor. LeVert has been starting at point in the bubble, and putting the ball in his hands and allowing him to create has paid off in huge ways. As the focal point of the team’s offense, a lot is riding on his shoulders. He shot a career best 36.4 percent from three on the season, but only 25.8 percent in the bubble. The Raps will dare him to beat them from deep and have a bushel of defenders they can throw at him, so look for Levert to be extra aggressive early to set the tone.

From the Vault

It’s only right we start with the last time these two teams met in the playoffs

More reading: Raptors HQ and Raptors Republic.