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Nets visit Raptors in quick turnaround

Toronto Raptors vs Philadelphia 76ers Rick Madonik/Toronto Star/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s good that Brooklyn’s next contest following an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia 76ers tips off the following night. Wednesday represents a chance for redemption, and boy do they have some redeeming to do. Here’s some of what I wrote when previewing Tuesday’s game in Philly:

But the key to what could be an easy Brooklyn win is the same as it was against Memphis: Do not allow offensive rebounds...The return of Nic Claxton should help, but Philly has the bodies to get O-boards. Paul Reed is 6’9” with springs and a plus-5 wingspan that should see an increased role in Embiid’s absence. You already know what Montrezl Harrell will bring to the table with his increased minutes. P.J. Tucker loves nothing more than to sneakily crash the boards from his perch in the corner.”

Shake Milton and Tobias Harris, with the greenest lights they’ll ever see, are capable of putting up numbers. Georges Niang may hit five threes. But at some point, the talent disparity should be too much for Philly to overcome. Extra possessions for the Sixers, though, can render that disparity a moot point.”

Take a wild guess what happened.

Twenty, twenty offensive boards for Philly leading to 19 more shot attempts for the Sixers. Georges Niang went 4-5 from deep; Shake Milton and Tobias Harris combined for 40 points and a bevy of tough, self-created shots down the stretch. Truly, a rancid loss. Blegh.

Yeah, Philadelphia hit half of their 32 threes, and some of those Milton/Harris shots made you shake your head, but that was predictable too. Brooklyn let the underdogs without much to lose and far more to gain play freely and confidently; the Nets played from behind for nearly the entire game. It’s no mystery as to why Philly made some tough shots. You can’t quantify “feeling it”, but those Sixers were NBA players if not All-Stars, and they were feeling it. Brooklyn, unsurprisingly, was tight. You reap what you saw.

The rebounding disparity is the box score marker of what every TNT viewer saw on Tuesday night; the Nets were out-hustled, top-to-bottom. The tactical errors they made defensively revealed a lack of spirit as well, either over-helping completely or not helping at all. Kyrie Irving was far from the only culprit on that end, but he was the most frequent. What’s he doing right here?

Coaching change, trades, players-only meetings, a high profile suspension, whatever. The Nets haven’t earned the right to come out lackadaisically against teams they (rightfully) expect to beat. They’re human, of course they should expect to beat these Sixers in this game! But Brooklyn, outside of Ben Simmons (funny how that works) acted like the game was over at tip-off. Coasting has been a problem in recent memory, and it struck again on Tuesday night.

The good news is that they get a chance to flush this one down the toilet immediately, as they travel to Toronto for a date with the Raptors on Wednesday,

Where to follow the game

YES is back, with both the network and the app telecasting the game. WFAN-FM once again has the radio call, with tip set for 7:30 p.m. ET from Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.


T.J. Warren is still rehabbing that foot, but reports of his progress — that he’s now practicing against fellow players, not coaches — are encouraging. Meanwhile, Yuta Watanabe is out with the hamstring injury that caused him to miss Tuesday’s game with. Seth Curry, injury management, is also out.

The Nets once again will be facing a team depleted by injury. Scottie Barnes and Otto Porter Jr. are doubtful and out, respectively, with toe injuries. Pascal Siakam and his groin remain out along with Precious Achiuwa and his ailing ankle. However, the Raps fans were buoyed by news Tuesday that Siakam had returned to practice and that Gary Trent (illness) is no longer listed on the Toronto injury report. Backup guard Dalano Banton is questionable for Wednesday night, as well. Based on recent history, though, none of those injuries guarantee an easier match-up for Brooklyn. (See above.)

The game

Now the Nets are really up against it. Because this pre-Thanksgiving back-to-back was an early Christmas present, in terms of opponents. A combination of the 76ers and Raptors rosters would be missing, what, six of its eight best players? Something like that? 2-0 could have been in the cards, but 1-1 would have been acceptable, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding. But Brooklyn dropped a game to Philly’s B-team, went to sleep at about 4 a.m., and have to wake up and play a hellacious team that still features Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. 0-2 on this back-to-back is staring them right in the face.

The good news is that Ben Simmons continues to trend upwards. That's not exactly surprising; everyone involved knew it would take some time for Simmons to regain form after nearly a year-and-a-half of no basketball. It was difficult, though, to keep that perspective when Simmons was putting up triple-singles every night and grabbing at his back. Anybody can remain rational and calm when analyzing an 82-game season that’s yet to tip off, but immediate results seem much more important when you're losing to the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter.

But Simmons’ second double-double of the season — 11 points and 11 rebounds plus seven assists -- was one of the only bright-spots for Brooklyn. The boos (which were underwhelming at best, given all the vitriol from Philly fans) barely made a dent in his armor. Sure, he missed a couple free throws, but given Durant and Irving’s poor defensive efforts, you can credibly say Simmons was the best Net on the floor in his Philly return.

Watching him play with Claxton, however, generated less positive thoughts, such as this:

Simmons’ offensive impact is minimized with Claxton on the floor. It just is, right now. Can they work through it? Perhaps. Are they two of Brooklyn’s five best players? Yes. This team, as presently constructed, needs Claxton and Simmons to be a playable front-court. Right now, that combination is hampering their offense, and no matter how good Simmons looks right now, it won’t lead Brooklyn to wins in the short term. Are the 8-10 Nets willing to suffer growing pains by putting their two non-shooting lefties on the floor together, in hopes of reaching a sustainable formula?

Toronto will not make that an easy task, given the intensity and ball-pressure with which they defend. I’ll be interested in gauging how the Simmons/Claxton pairing is treated moving forward, particularly against good defenses such as Toronto’s.

And what about Yuta?? Will there be a tribute video? Watanabe was as big a fan favorite in Toronto as he is in Brooklyn. Hard to believe but true. He only played 88 games north of the border but he made an impact. Raptor fans will likely give him a big welcome on return, if he plays. One reason: The Raptors decided not to bring him back and instead gave Otto Porter Jr. a two-year, $12.3 million. Porter has been out with toe injury and underwhelming in the eight games he has played.

Nick Nurse, the Raptors coach, said the decision not to re-sign Watanabe was based on his injury history, saying on Tuesday: “He was never healthy (as a Raptor).”

Player to Watch

Yes, Fred VanVleet remains underrated and, if the Raptors win, he’ll be the offensive star of the show, but I’m not going with him. I’m going with impressive rookie Christian Koloko.

At seven-feet with a plus-5 wingspan, Koloko takes up the whole paint. He’ll grab offensive rebounds and block shots. Due to Toronto’s injuries, he played 30 minutes in his most recent game, vs. Atlanta, and blocked 4 shots while grabbing 11 boards.

Brooklyn will have to work on generating shots at the rim vs. a Raptors team that is long and active inside the arc. Part of the reason the Nets couldn’t complete a comeback vs. Philly is because they saw no easy lay-ups after the first five minutes. The jumpers the Nets were missing pressure-packed, missing the alleviation that easy buckets provide. If Koloko is able to shut Brooklyn’s water off at the rim and help turn them into an entirely-perimeter oriented offense, that spells trouble. It may also force the Nets into placing their best defender and rebounder, Nic Claxton, on the bench.

No, he’s not the most important Raptor for Wednesday’s matchup, but Koloko’s outing could mirror the game itself.

From the Vault

In honor of Ben Simmons’ return to Philly, I shared a clip of Vince Carter’s much more vitriolic return to Toronto, in which he scored 39. (Seriously Sixer fans, I expected more.) Well now the Nets themselves are in Toronto, so I have to keep the theme going. Skip ahead to three minutes for the good stuff, but here’s a super-cut of what I think is the greatest revenge game ever:

Here’s a different game against Toronto where Vince Carter scored 39, only this time it featured a game-tying three and a game-winning dunk. He scored 12 points in the final 45 second of regulation, which doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. Once again, Carter was really the man.

Further reading is at our sister site, Raptors HQ.