The Dinos already lead the season series between the clubs two games to one but a win tonight would firmly put the series in their corner as opposed to a 2 - 2 draw. The Nets won the first match-up between these clubs back in November but the post-Rudy Gay version of the Raps has won the last two, the second without DeMar DeRozan.
And so here we go tonight with the final tilt, the Dinos coming off a solid win last night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Nets putting a hurt on the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night. The Raps have now nine of their last 11 and the Nets, looking to keep pace in the Atlantic, are winners of 11 of their last 15.
Let's get to the keys:
1) Defence. This seems like a no-brainer for each and every match but tonight, against a fairly awful offensive club in the Nets, a solid defensive display by the Raptors likely goes a longer way than usual. The Nets rank in the bottom third of the league in most offensive metrics and while they've been a bit better of late, this is still a club that puts up only 97 points per game on average. If Toronto can keep up their recent defensive play, the Nets might struggle to crack the 90 point barrier, something that favours the Dinos who continue to be a top 10 team in offensive efficiency.
2) Get Out and Go: Get ready for the turtle derby tonight! Both the Raptors and Nets average a paltry 94 possessions per game, ranking them in the league's basement for this metric. Not that Toronto can't run. We regularly see Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan streaking down the court for open dunks, however the team's offense in general is much more methodical. The Nets too, although some of this undoubtedly is a result of the average age of its key players.
I'm hoping therefore to see Toronto get off to the races as much as possible, looking for easy points in transition. The Nets are a solid team in terms of defending from halfcourt on so let's hope Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez are looking to push the pace whenever possible.
3) Rebound and Outlet: Leading directly into the previous point is this one: The Raptors sit eleventh in the league in offensive rebounding percentage whereas the Nets are pretty close to dead last in this department (26th.) Losing Reggie Evans via trade to the Kings only further weakens this area for the Nets (as Raptors fans know all too well) so Toronto should be able to take advantage of this area. Even minus Patrick Patterson (out likely two weeks with a right ulnar collateral sprain) players like Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, not to mention Toronto's guards like Lowry and Ross, should be able to get second-chance opportunities on O, and get the transition game going on D.
Continuous run-outs for easy baskets are one of the more deflating events during a game for an opponent so if the Raps can do this early in the match, they may indeed be able to grab that 3 to 1 season series without too much trouble.