Somehow still less embarrassing than the Raptors.

Coming off an embarrassing 0-5 road trip, the Raptors return home to host the Brooklyn Nets at the ACC. The Nets are a moderately disappointing 11-9 given the lofty expectations some had for them, and they’ve lost five straight coming in. They’re also on the second night of a back-to-back and likely got in late last night.

Before we get to the breakdown, Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of tonight’s contest. I also answered a few Qs for him, which follow.

How awful does it feel that the legacy of Barclays Center will always be that the first game was against this Raptors team? BTW, how’s the new digs working out?

Ahhh, it’s not so bad. Fun fact: the first game in New York history in the NBA was on November 1st… in 1946… against the Toronto Huskies. So let’s just say that history repeats itself. As far as Barclays Center, it’s an interesting place. Architecturally, it’s beautiful; it’s The Black House. Its dark interior, stadium lighting, and high-angled rafters make it seem like you’re watching a boxing match in 1967. I half-expect guys in dull gray suits and fedoras to smoke cigars and clap rapidly after each made basket. The crowd itself has its moments, but isn’t *there* yet. Barclays pumps in enough noise to fill… well, an arena with sound, but the fans don’t respond loudly enough yet. They just don’t seem to care enough about free t-shirts and predetermined CGI races of Subway sandwiches. What they do care about, however, is winning. And when the games are close or just starting to pull away, the crowd knows how to react accordingly.

What is up with the shooting woes of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson? Did you ever envision Brook Lopez being the team’s leading scorer?

Oh, absolutely. If Lopez could build an early chemistry with Deron Williams he’d drop 20 nightly, and when healthy, he has. Deron is a scorer-creator, but Lopez is a pure scorer. As for the shooting woes, with Williams it appears tied to his injuries. His wrist just hasn’t been right since he joined the Nets, and in his own words, he feels that he hasn’t had a good game yet this season. It’s heartbreaking to watch him just rim out open threes like the ball’s allergic to nylon. As for Johnson, it’s less clear. He’s gotten good shots, both inside and out, and just doesn’t seem to make them. He’s gotten slightly better as the year’s gone on, but he’s only had brief moments of fire.

Jerry Stackhouse. No question, just worth a mention.

JERRY! He’s coming back down to earth after his ridiculous start, but he’s a role player at its finest: wait for the defense to forget about you, and hit the corner 3. That’s his role. If he’s surrounded by players that can create, he’s the best Matt Bonner the Nets could ever ask for.

Is there anything the Raptors can exploit to try and steal this one? The Raptors, if you aren’t aware, have been terrible and the Nets have the advantage at every spot on the floor. Give me some hope!

You want hope? The Nets are in freefall. They’ve lost five in a row without Brook Lopez. They gave up a 17-point lead to New York, a 9-point lead to Milwaukee, a 13-point lead to Golden State, and 9-point halftime lead to Miami in the last four games. They’ve blown games in spectacular fashion rivaled only by Toronto. So in the “who can screw up the second half less” battle, the Raptors could easily sneak away with this one and it would not surprise me in the slightest.

1) Man, the Raptors are sad. What’s happening right now?

Everything and nothing. The team’s two supposed best players got yelled at by teammates in a team meeting, because one (Bargnani) doesn’t care and the other (Lowry) actually cares too much but doesn’t trust anyone else. It’s a mess, and with the GM blaming the players, not the roster construction, there’s just a bad fog hanging over the entire organization. Changes will come, of course, first on the roster and then probably in the GM chair, but in the interim this has been torturous. We were supposed to be a playoff team (maybe)!

2) In the dark cloud that is Toronto basketball, what do you consider the silver linings?

Jonas Valanciunas is now AKA The Big Silver Lining, more or less. He hasn’t been great, but compared to the expectations you’d normally have for a 20-year old European big man rookie, he’s been outstanding. He plays so hard and does the basics just well enough that he’s competent already, and there’s huge upside here. Of course, advanced stats hate him so far, but a lot of that is because he’s asked to do too much as the last line of defense and just isn’t ready for that responsibility. He’s going to be a very very good player, and watching him develop has been the only bright spot so far this year.

3) Early on it appears that Andrea Bargnani has regressed. Is that true, or is it just a matter of sample size & adjustment?

It’s a bit late to call it a small sample size, as much as I’d hope it is. He’s historically been streaky for long stretches, but rarely has he sustained a streak this poor. The biggest problem is that his game hasn’t changed at all – he’s taking relatively the same shots, playing the same poor defense (he is okay as a man defender but horrific as a team defender), and with the same “extra” “optional” stats like “rebounds.” The issue, then, if he hasn’t fundamentally changed as a player, is that there’s not really an easy fix – either the shots start dropping and he’s back to being a ‘take the bad with the good’ kind of guy, or they don’t, and he gets to be the lightning rod for fans. I want to be clear here – Andrea is not “the” problem or the only one, not even close, but you asked.

Updates
Brook Lopez – TBA
Andrea Bargnani – Out, indefinitely
Kyle Lowry – Out, tricep
Linas Kleiza – Out
Amir Johnson – Out, 1-game suspension
Quincy Acy – “Trying to get him back from Bakersfield”
Landry Fields – Out, undisclosed
Alan Anderson – Out, practicing

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard – Jose Calderon and John Lucas v. Deron Williams and C.J. Watson
Advantage:
Nets
I don’t care if Williams is shooting 40%, he could shoot 20% and still be the best point guard in this game right now. Their best hope is to force him to be perimeter-oriented since he’s hitting just 28% of his threes and taking a boatload of them. Also, Calderon has allegedly asked for a trade, but I think he’s just in a slump, not pouting – he’s too smart to play poorly as a way of getting out. For the Lowry haters, even though he’s been bull-headed at times, this game will put on display just how much a positive he is when he’s going.

Wings – DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus, and Terrence Ross v. Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks and Jerry Stackhouse
Advantage:
Nets
Jerry MF’n Stackhouse! He’s putting up seven points in 17 minutes and hitting 43% from down town, what a throwback! As for the others, Johnson is struggling mightily, shooting just 41% with a 12.9 PER and chipping in less in other areas than he normally does. He’s still extremely talented and possibly just adjusting to life without the ball constantly in his hands, although this really should be making things easier for him. Wallace is obviously a beast and the kind of guy this team could use, though he’s been pretty inefficient offensively, too. For the Raptors, I’d like to see DeRozan post-up more in this game. For one, it’ll make Johnson work and, even though Johnson is strong, DeRozan is one of the best in the game when it comes to scoring out of post-up plays. It’s a nice element he’s added to his game when he can’t or won’t get to the rim, and he should leverage it more often.

Bigs –Jonas Valanciunas, Ed Davis and Aaron Gray v. Brook Lopez (?), Kris Humphries, Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans
Advantage:
Nets
Oh God. No Bargs, no Amir, Acy might not be here from Bakersfield in time. This could get ugly. If I were the Nets, I would either let Lopez continue to rest or play him 10-minutes in a “get your feet wet” kind of situation. They won’t need him, so why risk it? Ed Davis will finally have the leash off and get a full complement of minutes for one night, so he better show up. I’m a big Davis fan and have always thought he’s been underused and has some untapped potential, but he has occasionally struggled when thrust into a bigger role. It’s put up or shut up time.

The Picks
Vegas: Nets -7.5
Hollinger Power Ratings: Nets -7.5
Blake: Nets by 100.
I’m actually upset I won’t be able to catch this game in real time (I’m flying Edmonton to Vancouver, as if you care, and then coming “home” Thursday for holidays, and will be checking out the games on the 14th and 21st. Again, as if you care). The reason I’d like to watch in real time is that it’ll either by hilarious or spirited, and either way that’s kind of a win. The Raptors would have no business winning, but at the very least we’ll get a chance to see Davis, Ross, and Valanciunas with significant roles on both ends for a game. This might not be the best thing for winning, but it’s good for development. Tune in regardless, just be ready to turn it off at a moment’s notice.

The game is at 7 p.m. on Sportsnet One.