The Raptors have a rare date with a struggling team during this ultimate challenge month as they head to the Barclays Centre to take on the free-falling Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets were one of the league’s pleasant surprises early as they flirted with a .500 start and were sitting in one of the lower playoff seeds when this happened:
WARNING NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
Caris LeVert had been, perhaps the breakout player of the NBA to that point (apologies to Spicy P), averaging 18.4/4.3/3.7 on a career high 47.5% shooting. Thankfully, LaVert’s injury wasn’t nearly as bad as it first looked (think Joe Theismann), and he’s expected back by February.
Still, without their learning to-do-everything starlet, the Nets have crumbled. They lost that game to Minnesota to fall to 6-8, and have gone 2-10 since, including being currently mired in an eight-game losing streak.
The Nets aren’t really good on either side of the ball. They’re 17th in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency. They get up and down the floor and shoot a lot of threes (5th in the NBA in attempts), but don’t make them especially effectively (34.8% — 19th), in that way they and the Raps are the same — Toronto sits, ninth and 21st in those categories respectively.
Other than that though, there isn’t much to compare between the two teams, except, maybe depth; the Nets have 12 guys who’ve played at least nine games and average double minutes, the Raps have 11. The difference is that the Nets roster still mostly consists of role-players forced to play up due to where the Nets are in roster construction.
Still, don’t necessarily expect this one to be a laugher. Brooklyn have lost just one during their current slide by more than 10 points, and have lost three times by a single bucket — including a great near upset of the Philadelphia 76’ers that every Raps fan was hoping for.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM. EST
Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Brooklyn: D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, Joe Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen
Toronto: Norman Powell (OUT - partially dislocated shoulder)
Brooklyn: Caris LeVert (OUT - Foot), Treveon Graham (OUT - Hamstring)
Can Kyle Lowry Get Back On Track?
The Raptors engine is still chugging along, but it’s been a bit more of the “I think I can, I think I can” variety than he, or Raps fans would like.
Kyle is shooting just 36.3 percent from the field in the past five games he’s played, and a miserable 29.7 percent from deep. His assists have also dropped to, a still healthy, 8.6 a game — but with no corresponding drop in turnovers.
Kyle will match up with former no. 2 overall pick, D’Angelo Russell. Russell’s game continues to stagnate at a level below what you’d like from a guy with his pedigree, but he’s still a huge lead guard (6’5, 200 lbs), and can put up points in a hurry.
Lowry will have to be at his bulldog best to discourage Russell early and take the Nets guard out of the game. If he could take advantage of the Nets lackadaisical defense to gets some shots to drop that would be great too. Toronto has proven it can win without peak KLOE, but it would make everyone’s life easier if he returned.
Raps Need to Re-calibrate those Sights
It’s not just Lowry whose been struggling to hit his shots. As previously mentioned, the Raps have sunk down to the bottom half of the NBA in long-distance accuracy, and if it seems like everyone shy of Danny Green is having trouble hitting, you’re not wrong.
Excluding deep bench guys, only three members of the Toronto roster are hitting treys at better than there career average: Green, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell.
One of those guys is hurt, one puts up less than two a game, and the other one is: “thank God for Danny Green”.
As a team, the Raps have failed to crack the 30 percent mark from beyond the arc in the last three games, shooting an ugly 26 for 96 (27.1%).
It’s only been a few games, but combined with the season long slump from a number of their better shooters every Raptors fan would love it if Toronto could hit the open shots they should be able to manufacture in this one.
As an added bonus it might also push the score up enough to let Nick Nurse finally get the bench the extended run it seems they so desperately need to figure things out.
Watch Out For Everyone
The Nets may not be top-heavy with talent, but they are deep. Seven different players have led them in scoring and five guys are averaging in double figures, which doesn’t include Allen Crabbe (8.8), who many thought might be a dark-horse type candidate as a Comeback Player of The Year after the Nets scooped him up from Portland.
Crabbe couldn’t hit anything to start the year (25.9% in October, 32.8% in November), but he has gone for double digits in four of his late eight games, including 22 against OKC on Wednesday.
The point here is not to say “watch out for Allen Crabbe,” but to underscore that this Nets team isn’t the sort where you can key on one guy, because on any given night, anybody can be that one guy.
Jarrett Allen is one of the best young centres in the game (even if he may be being misused), and his athleticism and burgeoning beyond the arc game could make it hard on both Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas.
Joe Harris is back healthy and at his best plays like a less-feisty and more understandable Joe Ingles, while Spencer Dinwiddie has had big games against the Raps on several occasions — and D’Angelo Russell has gone for 25 or more three times in the last six.
Still, the Raps are bigger, faster, and more talented. If they play with energy, hit even an average number of threes, and don’t overlook the Nets in favour of Sunday’s huge tilt against the Bucks, they should control this one.