Toronto Raptors New Jersey Nets March 4, 2011, 20110

When the NBA scheduled the Nets and Raptors to play two regular season games in London, England, they weren’t expecting either team to have a superstar among their ranks. Not anymore, the Nets scooped up Deron Williams, the biggest coup since the Lakers landed Gasol. Even though they are 0-3 in the D-Will era, the Nets are relevant again.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but since the All-Star break, the Raptors are 2-3; well above their season winning percentage. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it made me take another look at things:

  • The Raptors have a half place lead over the Nets for more ping-pong balls in the lottery
  • With Johnson in lineup, the Raptors are playing a totally better brand of basketball that wont help them get more ping-pong balls
  • I’m really liking James Johnson, the kid has a lot of the tools and toughness I look for in guys who would play for my team. I’m very interested to see how he does after a couple weeks of big minutes and reduced excitement of a fresh start
  • Still not a fan of Weems, and he’s playing a lot better, but he didn’t do enough with the opportunity he had and it cost him a couple million on his next contract; he can thank Johnson for that

I had a chance to have a chat with Mark Ginocchio of Nets are Scorching about Deron and the Nets:

First of all, I hate you and your team. There couldn’t have been a better result for the Nets than landing a top 3 point guard in the league. Do you have any background on how this deal came about?
Let me start by thanking you for the hatred. It’s been a long time since anyone hated Nets fans for anything other than wearing bags on our heads to games. With that said, the Deron Williams trade came out of left field for everyone, media, bloggers, fans, everyone. I don’t think it was any coincidence that Al Iannazzone, the beat writer for the Bergen Record who was doing a super job during the Carmelo Anthony nonsense, got the leak first and not any of the national guys like Wojnarowski, Broussard, Spears, etc. who have been just beating the Nets to a pulp for the past two months in their attempts to attract a start to the organization. If you believe Nets GM Billy King, he called up Kevin O’Connor, Utah’s GM, first to talk about some peripheral deals, most likely involving Devin Harris and maybe Mikahil Prokhorov favorite Andrei Kirilenko. King mentioned, half-joking about DWill’s availability and a deal was hammered out in 24 hours. It’s funny what can happen when team’s don’t have to deal with a bunch of
juvenile children like ‘Melo and Masai Ujiri, Denver’s GM, who had been holding the Nets hostage knowing ‘Melo only wanted the Knicks, this whole time.

I’ve read that the organization is going to do a great deal to cater to him (who to trade for, what amenities the practice court should feature, etc); do you guys run the same risk that Cleveland ran with catering to LeBron’s every whim, or is Deron a different beast?
In a recent write-up, Woj made a great point about Deron. He’s not ‘Melo, he’s not LeBron – he’s not looking to be the center of some marketing campaign. He just wants to win, period. And I think the only way the Nets will keep him here is if they demonstrate a commitment to put pieces around him. The thing is, Prokhorov has proven very early that money is no object, so I believe that this will happen. Plus, Deron will be owed a sizable amount (more than $17M) on his option year headed into Brooklyn in 2012 and with the new CBA likely lowering the cap, it may not be fiscally prudent for him to opt-out in 18 months as many are reporting he might do.

I was very interested to see how Deron and Avery would mesh together, but so far on the surface they seem to compliment each other. What are your thoughts on this pairing?
I was nervous too, but Avery apparently “threw out half the playbook” when Deron came on board, which is a good thing because the Nets offensive playbook stunk. I know AJ is a micromanager with his point guards, but this his first “star” PG he’s dealt with, someone who tends to focus on all aspects of his game unlike Devin Harris, who was a professional, but seemed to suffer from tunnel vision where he would only look to score some games, pass in others, and defend, every once in a while.

So Dwight is next? …I hate you…
That’s the rumor, but who knows. My guess is it would have to be a sign and trade, and the Nets would have to blow Orlando away with an offer, because otherwise Howard would probably go to the Lakers. The Nets have Brook Lopez and a nice complimentary piece in Anthony Morrow, but they gave away their lottery picks to Utah and given Lopez’s rebounding and defensive issues, I wonder if Orlando would be more interested in Bynum as the centerpiece of a LA deal.

What are you thoughts on the games this weekend in London? How do the Nets match-up with the Raptors? Is Deron going to be playing (injuries and all)?
Oh yeah, this season. Well, the Nets are 0-3 in the Deron Williams era, so there are obviously some kinks, especially on the defensive end, which bodes well for the Raptors. Williams says he’s going to play, and Jordan Farmar is supposedly back to back him up, but I’m hoping for a split here.

Injury Report

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Linas Kleiza – Out

New Jersey
Deron Williams – Day to day, should play
Jordan Farmar – Day to day, should play
Quinton Ross – Day to day

Player Report

Jose Calderon
If Jose can recreate the game he had against Paul, even a healthy Deron wont be able to do much. As it stands now, Deron is supposed to play, but he’s hurting. This is a great opportunity for Jose to attack the hell out of him since he doesn’t have a great deal of support behind him defensively. I’ve been calling for it for a while now, but when Jose is going off efficiently from the field, he is such a deadly point of attack for the offense. Defenses can’t cheat, and have to consider him. As always, defense is a concern, but if you’re matching output, then it gives DeMar/Bargnani the chance to take matters into their hands.
Box: 13pts 11ast 3rebs

DeMar DeRozan
16 trips to the line over the last five games (four if you consider he didn’t get to the line at all against the Bobcats); sure he’s hit all 16, but it’s not enough. Not enough when you consider he’s contributing 1.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds over the same five-game stretch. If he gets to the line more, it means he’s attacking off he dribble more, which means his defender is back-pedalling more, which means a help defender is rotating, which means the defensive is that much more vulnerable. That said, the British are gonna love this high-flyer, hopefully he gives them a couple things to cheer about. Against Morrow, he will have to deal with an outside-in player, who can stroke the three at a high percentage; 44% on the year. Morrow has been a nice pickup for this team with his efficient scoring, but his defense is brutal, and is exactly where DeRozan can put his mark on the game.
Box: 21pts 3rebs 1ast

James Johnson
Yea…I’m really liking him a lot. I tried tempering any enthusiasm for him the last pre-game, but as long as he remembers the things that make him successful on the court, and doesn’t forget what it’s like to log 30 minutes for the whole season, I think he’ll do fine. We could see a dip in his energy as the excitement of getting a second chance begins to fade, but as long as he’s still hustling, things will work themselves out. Truth be told, his inclusion in the starting lineup has this team playing a better brand of basketball that could really hurt their draft position come July. That’s probably the best compliment I’ve given any Raptor this season: that they make the team better. So I know very little about Damion Jones, who’s been getting the start since the trade went down. The guy is a big, active player who rebounds well and is starting to develop a perimeter game. Seems like the two of Johnson and Jones are somewhat similar in what they bring to the game.
Box: 8pts 9rebs 3ast 2blk

Amir Johnson
I did a double-take after glancing at Amir’s line after the Hornets game: 8pts 10rebs 2ast 7blk

It really should come as no surprise given how involved he was in every aspect of the game, not too mention he had to deal with West and Okafor all night. What has the smile on my face is the six swats he had. Given how close the score was, with the Hornets cutting the lead to 4 with time ticking down, Amir’s defense was huge in maintaining the Raptor lead, and eventually pulling out the win. Recreating that production will be tough, but the Nets front court consists of Humphries and Lopez and..yea, Amir/Ed/Andrea should take this.

Humphries will shoot the ball enough to remind us that even though he’s close to averaging a double-double on the season, his scoring aspirations disrupt the offense too much for him to be a starter. He does hustle, and give it his all, so he can’t be overlooked.
Box: 14pts 9rebs 3blk

Andrea Bargnani
Im just going to put this out there, but I think I’d rather have Bargnani than Lopez. Over the course of this season, both teams have equally stunk, but Andrea has done more with his playing time than Brook. It wasn’t always the case, and Lopez is a nice player,but he’s definitely had a disappointing season. Check the comparison:

Lopez: 34.6m 19.5pts 5.9rebs 1.5ast 1.5blk
Bargnani: 35.9m 21.8pts 5.5rebs 1.7ast 0.6blk

While Bargnani isn’t blowing Lopez away, and Brook has a higher PER (18.43 to 16.41), Bargnani is a better defender in the low post, and his rebounding is about the same. Lopez can step out and hit a jumper, but his range is stretched to the limit at 18 feet, and his post game isn’t as refined.
Box: 26pts 7rebs 1blk

The Line

The gamblers have the Nets as 3 point favourites with an over/under of 202.5. I’m expecting a nice pace to this game, and it should be close. I’m hoping the Nets win both these games weekend (to solidify the Raptors draft position), but I’m guessing the teams will split the games. Raptors pull out a tough win tonight, Nets storm back and win tomorrow.

Today’s game is at 3pm EST; if you’re stuck at the office, then come check out our live blog by Arsenalist.

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