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Nets complete road trip, back-to-back in Tampa vs. Raptors

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With the news that James Harden is “back to square one” after a setback in the rehab from a hamstring strain, the Nets went into New Orleans Tuesday night with plenty of excuses to lose. Devastating news after devastating news, only nine active players and without Kevin Durant. Then, they were on the wrong end of a 16-0 run by the Pelicans. No problem. The Nets reached into their reserve of Brooklyn Grit and came out on top with Kyrie Irving scoring 24 points in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter to finish with 32 points ... and eight assists.

The Nets then made a short jaunt across the Gulf of Mexico to take on the Toronto Raptors in their temporary home in Tampa. While the Nets are a half game behind the 76ers, the Raps are fighting for the 10th seed so they can participate in the play-in tournament. Right now, they’re 12th but only a half-game out of 10th with a 24-34 record. They have been off since Sunday.

Where to follow the game

The game will be on the YES2 Network again as well as the YES app. No national TV this time. Nets Radio will carry the game on WFAN 101.9 FM. Tip-off will be early after 7:00 p.m.

You can join us on NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game. Insights and conversation. Details here.

Injuries

Woe is us. It’s too early in the day to have a clear picture. James Harden (hamstring), Spencer Dinwiddie (knee), Tyler Johnson (knee) and Chris Chiozza (hand) are all definitely out and we doubt we will see either Nic Claxton or Reggie Perry either. They’re in the health and safety protocols for still unexplained reasons. The big question remains Kevin Durant, who hurt his thigh early in the Heat game and missed the Pelicans. Steve Nash said it was unlikely he’ll play vs. Toronto but he also said he’s day-to-day. Meanwhile, Blake Griffin said post-game that he might be ready to go despite the back-to-back. Mike James, the Euroleague guard who the Nets are reportedly set to sign, was released by CSKA Moscow and is expected to sign “in the coming days,” says CSKA. He’s still going through testing, Marc Stein reported and Brian Lewis says the signing is scheduled for Friday. (Nothing like a 150-word injury report.)

For the Raptors, shooting guards Jalen Harris, Rodney Hood and Paul Watson, with knee issues, are all out.

The game

The Raptors won the first game, 123-117 back in February. That was the game when Kevin Durant was forced to sit at the beginning of the game, then after playing 19 minutes was pulled and placed in the league’s health and safety protocols. The Nets and Raptors will face each other twice in the next week, tonight and next Tuesday.

The Raptors have been up and down all season, mostly down, but they’ve won three straight against the Spurs, Magic and Thunder, all relatively close contests, and six of their last 10. Battling COVID-19 and a long way from home has made them resilient and now perhaps ready for a stretch run.

Their scoring been led by five different players over the last five games and none of the five were named Kyle Lowry or Fred Van Vleet. In fact, in their Sunday win over the Thunder, Lowry, Van Vleet,Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby were all out! So Toronto at Tampa is very well-rested while the Nets are on a back-to-back with top players out.

Are the Raptors indeed ready for a break out now that they’re finally healthy and rested? Dylan Litman of Raptors HQ, our SB Nation sister site, is hopeful, not that not only are their best players back but they did well in the buyout market, grabbing Khem Birch, a fellow Canadian and solid defender which had been an issue for them.

It’s been a tumultuous couple of months for the Raptors. Throughout all of March, the team managed to win just a single game. Since the start of April, however, fans have seen a different side to this Raptors squad. With each game’s active roster reduced to whoever happens not to be resting that night, Toronto’s newer additions have stepped up nicely and put their various skill sets on display.

Khem Birch has shown off his offensive versatility, displaying creativity in the pick-and-roll, throwing a few dazzling passes, and even knocking down some shots from long range...

At this point, we can assume the team is operating under the mindset of “whatever happens, happens”. No matter how the rest of the season unfolds, at the very least, Toronto fans will get to learn more about the team’s most unproven guys.

The Raptors have indeed been giving younger players a chance of late with some suggesting they were tanking, but now, they have a shot at the post-season, thin as it might seem. They certainly have some battle-tested players with both playoff experience ... and experience with COVID-19.

On Tuesday, they signed two-way forward Yuta Watanabe to a standard deal. Watanabe played for the Nets in the Summer League back in 2018, but signed a two-year, two-way with the Grizzlies then this summer an Exhibit 10 with the Raps.

A shoutout to the Raptors fan base. Imagine having your team play 1,336 miles away —a 20 hour drive IF you could get across the still-closed border— because of COVID-19. It would be like if the Nets played in Kansas City for a season. (KC did make a play for the Nets when the Brooklyn move was messy, but that’s a story for another time.) It’s not silly to argue that the resettlement and malaise also played a role in the team’s disappointing season.

Player to Watch: Frad Van Vleet

FVV is the NBA poster boy for hard work leading to big success. Last November, he signed a four-year, $85 million deal to stay with the Raps. He’s followed that up with some nice statistics this year, averaging 19.5 points, a career high, and 6.1 assists. His shooting is down. His 39.1 percent overall mark is his lowest since his rookie year and his 3-point number, 36.6 percent, is the worst of his career. And he ‘s only played 45 games having suffered a mid-season bout of COVID-19 that put him out of action and in bed.

VanVleet told reporters last month that he dealt with body aches, a fever and other issues. He also had to separate himself from his family and teammates immediately after testing positive.

“At that point, it was just a matter of trying to get somewhere and get isolated and get away from my kids and my girl and my family,” VanVleet said. “I hunkered down. I had it. I had symptoms, a few days of symptoms. It was pretty rough, a few of those days.”

He was not alone. The Raptors had several players and coaches quarantined because of the virus.

Van Vleet also has had to deal with a hip injury that initially wasn’t seen as serious but ultimately cost him some game time.

On Saturday perhaps frustrated by all that’s happened to him and his team, he criticized the NBA for putting money over players’ health. It was a rare public rebuke of the how the league’s owners pushed its players into a compressed schedule with little rest which as we now as well as anyone can lead to soft tissue injuries.

“It’s certainly ups and downs to this thing, more than I’ve ever experienced in my life,” VanVleet said. “I mean, to be honest, this is probably the most unpure year of basketball I’ve ever been a part of. Just from the whole league and rushing the season back, it’s pretty much all about business this year on every level. And it’s hard to hide it now.

“The NBA is a great balance of, like, the pure love and joy of one of the best sports in the world, mixed with a billion-dollar industry,” he added. “And I think this year the industry side has taken precedence over some of the love and the joy. But there’s good days and bad days. I’ve been saying that all year.”

He said what a lot of players are thinking.

From the Vault

This one never gets old. January 6, 2006, Vince Carter’s second time back in Toronto after he had been traded to the Nets in December 2004. The Nets were on a roll coming into Toronto but were down two with time running down when VC aided by the ever resourceful Jason Kidd hit one of the most memorable shots in Nets history. Watch Carter the first time, then watch Kidd.

More reading: Raptors HQ