If the Toronto Raptors can’t beat the Brooklyn Nets, they can’t beat anyone. Though the Raptors are sliding rapidly down the Eastern Conference standings, the team has a shot to stabilize somewhat against the worst team in the NBA.
Generally, 30-21 teams don’t have to play in mid-season must-win games, but after losing eight of their last ten competitions, a loss to the 9-41 Nets would be the last blow to the limited remaining confidence the Raptors still have. Right now, the players may still believe they are the second best team in the East, but if they lose to the Nets, it’s hard to imagine that belief won’t be shaken.
On the bright side, a clash against a really bad team is always a great chance to prove something. There is no reason the Raptors shouldn’t win by 20, and if they do, it may help quash some of the festering concerns hanging around the locker room, the corporate boardrooms of the team’s front office, and the stands of the ACC.
Here are three keys to a game that would be an embarrassment to lose.
Welcome Back Deebo
Unless something unexpected happens between now and tip-off, DeMar DeRozan should make his return to the court from a nagging injury. Last month, he sprained his ankle, and after returning three games later, he experienced swelling that forced him to sit for another three games. He is slotted to make his comeback against the Nets, and even if he is limited by a minutes restriction, he should have no problem getting his mojo back.
DeRozan is having a career year, surpassing expectations from most that what he did last year was the best we were ever going to see out of him. He is averaging 27.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, a massive improvement over last year’s already impressive 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and four assists per game. When he plays, it makes life much easier for his teammates, including co-star Kyle Lowry. DeRozan draws help defence, which creates more space for Lowry to shoot, and he takes some of the playmaking burden away from his over-worked point guard.
Literally Who Plays For The Nets?
On Friday against the Indiana Pacers, the Nets put out a starting lineup featuring only two former lottery picks, one of whom is Randy Foye (who is old and bad). This is a team of unknown or hardly known former late first round and second round picks, going through the pointless motions of a basketball season without any chance of making the playoffs.
Jeremy Lin, who is injured, is the second best player on this team. Let that sink in.
I was actually going to write something nice about how Caris LeVert is a surprisingly good player, having a nice rookie season, but the Nets don’t deserve that.
Long Live Norm
If DeRozan does indeed return, I’m not sure Norman Powell will get meaningful minutes, but he deserves it. The guy has shown during his sophomore season that he can really play, but he has hardly been given a shot off the bench. When he starts for DeRozan, he puts up nice numbers, like his 18 points last time out against the Orlando Magic.
Surely, Dwane Casey should be able to find a way to get Powell going without slotting him in as a starter. That being said, logic has evaded his rotations before. Patrick Patterson should always start, for example, but that’s another argument for another day.
Powell can defend as well or better than all of the team’s guards who aren’t named Kyle Lowry. On offence, he can finish around the hoop and even shoot a little from distance (36 per cent on the season). Going forward, the Raptors will be better on both sides of the ball if Powell is given a meaningful role.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 12:00 EST