Some brain genius was on Twitter over the weekend connecting one dot to another, and then erroneously joining those two dots to a third. This happens quite often on Twitter, but the Raptors are playing the Nets today at 4pm to open the 2020 NBA playoffs, so you can probably guess where I’m going with this. In any case, I lost track of the tweet, so we’ll just riff on the sentiment.
Back in 2007, the Raptors played the then-New Jersey Nets in the first round of the post-season; Toronto was in third at the time against the six-seeded (and .500) Nets. Then in 2014, the Raptors played the now-Brooklyn Nets in the opening round; and once again Toronto was perched in third. As we well-know, the Raptors lost both those matchups, each time ceding the higher ground to the Nets, each time vowing to return better than before.
Now then, to that aforementioned online brain genius. This fellow was trying to understand why the Raptors are now quite favoured in their latest matchup against the Nets. I believe he even extolled Twitter to “help it make sense” to him personally. That’s easy enough to do. Those previous Nets teams were stocked with at least two Hall of Famers each — four in total — and maybe more (depending on how you feel about the careers of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams). In both those case, the Raptors were still trying to find themselves.
That is no longer the case. In 2020, the Raptors are the defending champs and are favoured to win because they are the far superior team. I’m not going to count the number of characters in that previous sentence, but I’m confident it could fit into a tweet.
Here are your game details for Game 1 of Raptors vs. Nets in the Bubble — along with three other things to consider.
Where to Watch:
4pm on Sportsnet
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Brooklyn — Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, Joe Harris, Garrett Temple, Jarrett Allen
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (knee - out), Oshae Brissett (knee - out)
Brooklyn — Jamal Crawford (hamstring - out), many familiar names (see below - out)
First, let’s give the Nets some credit. They climbed over the remnants of the Orlando Magic to get into seventh place in the East (thank goodness). As the NBA headed into the Bubble, this did not seem like it was going to happen. Brooklyn counts among their roster two of the best players in the league — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — but neither is currently healthy. Meanwhile, many of their quality secondary players, namely Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan declined to participate in the Bubble (or tested positive for COVID-19). As you can imagine, this set the Nets back.
Yet, here we are. The Nets went 5-3 in the Bubble, even grabbing wins over the Bucks and Clippers along the way. Led by Caris LeVert and Joe Harris, and powered by some timely shooting from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, they were indeed no pushovers. In fact, they had the seventh best offense in the Bubble, a surprise considering the sudden exodus of talent from their roster. Now, did they benefit from a soft schedule that saw them play the Wizards, Kings, and Magic (twice) — well, who’s to say? They’re here now, is my point.
In that spirit, let’s say: kudos to Brooklyn. Much like the Raptors of yesteryear, they’ve got their backs against the wall and are trying to discover themselves. Good for them.
Still, the basic fact is this: the Raptors are just not a team with a lot of weakpoints. Oh sure, at the very tippy-top of the NBA they’ll perhaps struggle against the best players in the league. But also: they’ve shown they can match-up against anyone, handle business against anyone, refuse to back down against anyone. Toronto can be downright fearsome at times.
Unlike previous iterations of the team, the Raptors can’t necessarily be picked apart, mismatched into oblivion, or overrun by even supreme talent. They have scoring inside and out, a surfeit of go-to plays that can generate buckets, and lineups to deal with most anything an opponent can throw at them. They also have a coach in Nick Nurse who is ready to gameplan his team into a position to win (and against the Nets, it does not seem like that gameplan will need to be too complicated). All told, that counts for a lot given the bizarre Bubble scenario the Raptors still find themselves in.
Yes, I realize I’m glossing over the “in-depth analysis” part you’d perhaps like to read here — but what else is there to glean from a Raptors-Nets showdown? Despite their sudden offensive uptick in the Bubble, the Nets ranked 18th (out of 22) in defensive rating over that same stretch. Of the top five players in the series, Toronto has at least four of them, and that only depends on how you rank LeVert (as compared to OG Anunoby). Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s bench is being led by castoffs Luwawu-Cabarrot and Tyler Johnson — standing opposite NBA champions Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka. There’s just not a single advantage to document here for Brooklyn. Sorry!
Most of the predictions I’ve seen floating around — including ours here on HQ — have the Raptors winning this series in five games. I understand why there is still a conservative pull against the idea of a Toronto sweep. The Raptors have never won a playoff series in such fashion (though they’ve been swept four times). In fact, the Raptors often go out of their way to extend a series as long as they possibly can. It was a dream when the Raps beat the 2018 Wizards in just six games. It felt so refreshing to move on from the 2019 Magic in a mere five contests.
But even then, even against Orlando and with Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors found a way to screw things up and blow a tremendously winnable game. That it was also a Game 1 at home — in which the Raptors have historically performed poorly — just added to the myth that Toronto would and could never just outright dominate a playoff opponent. It’s also worth noting here that these Nets, with all their pluck, are well-suited for a one-off upset. They have no chance of winning this series, but if one or two guys get hot for a game (I’m almost positive Harris will do it once), then the Raptors will once again be left to close this thing out in five games.
But close it out they will — even if the Curse of the Home Game 1 somehow follows them into the Bubble. So yes, even though this is a preview of the first game of this Raptors-Nets series, we’ve already arrived at the end.
Good luck, Brooklyn.