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Nets look to extend season-long win-streak vs. Raptors

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time we take the Brooklyn Nets at their word, a sentence which would have been laughable just one month ago. It was on November 1 that the Nets, at 2-5, insisted that the removal of Steve Nash would be the cure-all this talented team needed. Sure. A new voice would fix this train rumbling towards wreckage?


We were knee-deep in a series of bruh-moments from Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons looked like a shell of himself; I mean, people were putting together trade packages to trade away Kevin Durant. After Brooklyn had fulfilled his summer request! It was that bad.

The Nets gave assistant coach Jacque Vaughn the interim title, and, after losing a few hours later against Chicago to drop their record to 2-6, off they went. Blowing it up looked inevitable, and it felt right that the last days of this era of Brooklyn basketball would be the least pleasant.

Maybe it was too much skepticism. It’s been one month since the day the dust settled after Brooklyn had fired their coach and saw their winning percentage drop to .250. In that month, under the stewardship of now-permanent head coach Jacque Vaughn, the Nets are 10-5. Their record now stands at above .500 a quarter way into the season at 12-11. Brooklyn, quietly, has the fourth-best net rating in the NBA in that timespan.

I don’t know why it doesn’t feel quite that good. Maybe because there were some disgusting losses in November, or maybe because some wins were nothing to write home about. But there’s no glaring loophole in this stretch of solid play. Their 3-point shooting, before vs. after November 2, has improved by less than two percent. Meanwhile, teams have been shooting league-average (35.7%) against them from deep. And both before and after, this team still sucks - sucks - on the glass.

There’s still room for improvement - it feels like Vaughn & Co. are still working on easing the rhythm of Kyrie Irving’s touches. Right now nearly everything is being created from a stand-still. And Ben Simmons - this version of Ben Simmons - has still hardly played with Irving.

That won't change on Friday night, with Simmons out when Brooklyn plays host to the Toronto Raptors. But the Nets have come such a long way in just a month, it still seems worth discovering what December may bring. Don’t hold your breath, though, these are still the Nets. The disappointment is only fueled by hope.

Where to follow the game

Same deal as Wednesday, with tip-off scheduled for just past 7:30 p.m. ET, and an all-local broadcast. YES Network and the YES App have the telecast, and WFAN-FM once again has the radio call.


T.J. Warren remains ou... - Oh wait. Sorry, old habits. T.J. Warren is back playing, or at least cleared and dressed to play, for the first time in two years, when he was still a Pacer, not yet a Net. I hope the Barclays Center crowd shows their appreciation, it’s been a long road back. Meanwhile, Simmons and Yuta Watanabe remain out. Something to note, though, is that Simmons’ left knee soreness has officially been re-classified as a “left upper lateral calf strain”. Still doesn’t sound fun.

Last time these two teams played, the Raptors’ injury report was a mile-long. Not so. Just Otto Porter (toe) and Precious Achiuwa (ankle) will miss Friday’s contest.

The Game

On November 23, the Nets won in Toronto, despite 54 combined minutes of Juancho Hernangomez and Jeff Dowtin giving it their all. Props to those two in-hand, I’m sure the Raptors are thrilled to welcome back Scottie Barnes, Fred VanVleet, and budding superstar Pascal Siakam.

Yes, Siakam is already 28 years old, but he really is becoming a superstar in front of our eyes. He’s at 24/9/7 this year as the focal point of Toronto’s offense, and does it all. He’s dynamic as a screener or ball-handler in a two-man game, and a true three-level threat. Siakam is only shooting 33% from deep this year, but you can bet teams are still guarding him from out there. And if that wasn’t enough, Toronto’s defensive rating improves by five points per 100 with him out there, even though Siakam is mostly facing start units

Like Kevin Durant Siakam’s bread and butter is that short mid-range game. At 6’8” with a 7’3” wingspan and a high release, he gets his shot over anybody that contests it. I personally hope we get to see Nic Claxton, who could bother a hook shot from Andre the Giant, matched up with Siakam for a couple possessions. We were robbed of it last time. In any case, Siakam’s percentages this season are ridiculous. Basketball Reference has him at 52% on non-rim shots inside 16 feet, and practically none of those looks are assisted.

That’s a theme with Toronto, the unassisted nature of their shots. A tenet of recent Raptors offense is the aesthetic of pulling a push door until it’s ripped off its hinges. They’re 22nd in assist rate and third in offensive rebounding percentage. The Raptors are longer and stronger than most teams they play, so running their offense like it’s 1st and goal from the 1-yard line makes sense. They’re gonna break the plane eventually.

The Raptors may bake offensive rebounding into their strategy more than any other team in the league. Perhaps it’s a poor idea to take Nic Claxton away from the basket in the interest of defending Siakam, I’m not sure who behind him is going to box out the likes of Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Thaddeus Young.

Once again, Brooklyn is facing an opponent where protecting the glass is going to be crucial. Only this time, they’re facing a professional rebounding team, not simply some collection of young players with more energy than them. Toronto, time and again, maps out the pressure points of opposing defenses and preys on them. No forgotten box-out will be left un-punished.

Edmund Sumner should see minutes once again, in hopes of matching the chaotic energy of Toronto. He shot 2-4 from deep in Wednesday’s win over Washington, and that marksmanship is found money for Sumner. Pushing the pace and defending like an MF’er is why he should see the court again. After that, who know who gets crushed and spit out of the rotation meat grinder. Who knows how much Patty Mills plays? Who knows how many minutes Seth Curry gets?. It could be Markieff Morris time, although I said that prior to the Washington game, only for him to log four minutes. (The Nets have to decide by next Friday whether get another million dollars guaranteed on his vets minimum deal.)

What we know is this: Kevin Durant will see lots of funky doubles, and Joe Harris, who hit that huge shot Wednesday, and Royce O’Neale, who hit that huge shot in these teams’ first meeting, have to be ready to attack close-outs and make the right play.

We also know that we know nothing. A win vs. Toronto would place the Nets a half-game out of the 4-seed in the East, currently occupied by a fairly non-threatening Indiana team (sorry, Pacers). These Nets might be, dare I say it, good? And firing Steve Nash accelerated this team towards that goodness? The NBA never ceases to surprise.

From the Vault

Breaking the streak of Vince Carter reminiscence may be odd, considering the opponent, but I have to give Thaddeus Young some love:

I don’t know a single Nets fan that didn’t appreciate Thad Young, and for good reason. Dude always came to play. If you’re headed to the Barclays Center on Friday night, make sure to give him a loud round of applause from me.

For further reading, head to Raptors HQ.