The Nets are hot, red hot in fact. Winners of 10 of their past 11 games, the only team to beat them was the Raptors 96-80 and that was the day after the Nets took down the HEAT in a double-overtime victory that left their starters drained.
Toronto is visiting Brooklyn after a day off to recover from a 126-118 loss to the Clippers in which sophomore Terrence Ross tied a franchise scoring record with 51 points and Brooklyn is once again coming off an emotional victory the night before. However, in Boston, none of the Nets starters played over 30 minutes, so this will not be an exhausted squad returning home to face the Atlantic Division leaders.
The Raptors are only 1 loss better than the surging Nets heading into tonight’s contest and take a lot of pride in their first place status, but how can this group of young athletic players beat the veteran All-Star laden team from Brooklyn that was supposed to be leading the Atlantic Division all season?
The Nets put themselves in this position. A terrible incoherent start followed by the loss of All-Star center Brook Lopez to his recurring foot problems has finally settled down into the type of veteran play expected from this very experienced team. The Nets should be a very solid defensive team with lots of scoring options even without Lopez and over the last 11 games, they have been showing it.
During the ‘streak’, the Nets are holding opponents to just 92.3 points per game while their offense has improved to 98.5 points. In the 31 games prior to this, the Nets were scoring 96.8 points and giving up 102.4. That’s a 10.1 point per game improvement on defense.
The frequently sidelined Deron Williams has played in 6 of the recent wins, but this streak and the improved defense coincides with the return of Andrei Kirilenko to the rotation. However, really everyone on the roster has being playing closer to what was expected at the start of the season.
On paper, there is nothing Toronto can do to beat the Nets. The lineup of Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Kirilenko dwarfs anything the Raptors could field by reputation. The Nets enjoy a deep strong supporting cast as well thanks to the highest payroll in the NBA.
The only way the Raptors are beating anyone these days is by playing as a team and that team will be tested without their leading scorer. DeMar DeRozan turned an ankle last game and won’t play in Brooklyn. At least the Nets are not going to get this young Raptors squad to forget the defensive principles Head Coach Dwane Casey has been preaching all season. Brooklyn has only played in 1 shootout over their past 11 games. This should be a contest emphasizing defense, controlled pace and strong fundamental play.
If Brooklyn wins, they will move to within a half game of the Raptors for first in the Atlantic Division. Both teams desperately want the honor and the tie-breaker going forward. It should be a great game.
Check out our top stories from last week:
Pro Bball Week in Review 01/26/14
On Pro Bball Report last week: Raptors at the half, 51 from Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez, Landry Fields, Vince Carter, Andrea Bargnani, Raptors pregame and post game stories and more.