The Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets get their first-round playoff series started at 12:30 EST today and what better way to preview the action then to have an installment of "Blogging With The Enemy?"
To that end, we chat with Tom Lorenzo of NetsDaily.com, SB Nation's Brooklyn Nets' super-site, regarding five pertinent questions before the series begins...
1) RaptorsHQ: The Nets started to turn things around later than the Raptors but the two clubs share some similar narratives this season, specifically in terms of great second halves of the NBA season. What would you say the main reasons for Brooklyn's turnaround were?
NetsDaily.com: First, I think it had a lot to do with the team finding a comfort and rhythm playing with each other. Having five current or former All-Stars on the court at the same time turned into a bit of "Who's the man?" competition. It wasn't as if egos were getting in the way, it's just that guys were struggling to adjust to a system that really wasn't even defined. Then, secondly, you had a head coach in Jason Kidd with no coaching experience at all. He was completely lost out there, with no real offensive system, with an assistant coach who he felt was defiant and his "best decision" early on being spilling a cup of soda on the court to steal a timeout. Then, when Brook Lopez got hurt, it seemed as if Kidd found a working system, when he went long and small, so to speak.
Kidd moved Paul Pierce over to the power forward and put Shaun Livingston in as the team's "off guard," and all of a sudden they had found a rhythm. So, basically, it took two things: time and an institution of a working system. Plus, Kidd removed his tie and grew a beard, which led to a .600+ record. So, we'll go with that, too!
2) RHQ: Give it to me straight - did you hope the Nets faced the Raptors in the first round? Why/why not, and was there another club you would have preferred the Nets to play?
ND: Me personally, I did not want to see the Nets face the Raptors. I don't necessarily think they're the "cakewalk" that some are making them out to be. I think the Raptors are both athletic and long, which could offer up struggles on the defensive side of the ball for the Nets. I think Kyle Lowry is going to give Deron Williams a ton of fits, with his speed and strength, and the wing position, whether it be DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross, is going to be tough for the Nets to guard.
I can't say, though, either that I would have rather the Nets play the Bulls. I think they're equally tough. The one huge mistake they made was angling for the Heat in the second round, if they get there, of course. No way do you angle your team to get LeBron James in the playoffs. Give two teams a chance to knock them off before you would possibly have to face them.
In sum, all teams are tough, this is the playoffs, I think they shouldn't have angled for the sixth see, but here we are, so let's play ball!
3) RHQ: I'm not going to get into the "experience" line of questioning, but instead, who would you say the X-Factor(s) is/are for the Nets in this series and why?
ND: I see two x-factors for the Nets. First, Deron Williams needs to play at an All-Star level. We've seen glimpses of it in the second half of the season, but he needs that to carry through into the playoffs. He needs to at least match Lowry. He's the team's "franchise player" and he needs to play like it. Toward the end of the season he started to slip back into mediocre D-Will, but we did see glimpses, and he needs to step up his game in order for the Nets to win the series.
Second, Mason Plumlee is going to be huge. Mostly because, we're still not sure Kevin Garnett can give much more than 20-25 minutes per game and Andray Blatche has really struggled of late. The Nets are going to need the rookie to step up and be a force in the paint, on both sides of the floor.
4) RHQ: What would you say the Nets' biggest advantage is versus the Raps? Disadvantage?
ND: Depth is a big advantage for the Nets. They can go about 9-10 deep, comfortably. Guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche, Marcus Thornton and even Mirza Teletovic have all played key roles for the Nets this year. They are deep, and they can bring scoring off the bench, while spelling Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. So, I think the Nets will use that depth in this series, especially against a younger, quicker Raptors team.
And that leads me to the disadvantage: athleticism! Shaun Livingston, D-Will, Kirilenko and Plumlee are athletes, but beyond that, they don't have many guys who can get out and run with the Raptors. I expect that to be a bit of an issue in this series, as we've seen against them in the regular season.
5) RHQ: And yep, let's have it. Who wins the series, how many games, and do KG and Lowry get into at least one scuffle?
ND: OK, I'm contractually obligated to say Nets in 6. Mainly because, I do think this series will be close and, more importantly, I don't think the Nets want it to go back to Toronto for a Game 7. And if Garnett has to throw an elbow or two to get it done, well, then so be it! Also, I think Lowry should be more afraid of Mikhail Prokhorov. Would it surprise me if Game 5 we got a "Kyle Lowry seems to be missing!" alert? Ehhh...not really.