Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Jan. 6

The Toronto Raptors are set to visit the Brooklyn Nets for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off on TSN, and boy, do the Raptors kind of need this.

Not to disrespect or underestimate any opponent (shout out to precautionary Twitter tale Bill Simmons), but the 10-24 Nets may be the easiest game on the schedule for an NBA team right now. The Los Angeles Lakers can give them a run, maybe, but even the Philadelphia 76ers have found Ish and gone 3-3 over their last six. The Nets are seemingly getting worse, too, with Joe Johnson withering away more quickly than the Barclays Center crowds, Jarrett Jack unfairly going down for the season, the two best prospects the team has sitting on the shelf, and Lionel Hollins, well…moving on.

This is a Nets team that ranks 28th in offense, 23rd in defense, and remarkably doesn’t rank in the top six for any of the so-called four factors at either end of the floor. They somehow aren’t good at a single thing other than maybe offensive rebounding and not fouling much, but the former hasn’t done much for their transition defense and the latter is more a symptom of a conservative strategy that doesn’t stop many people rather than any sort of underlying discipline. This is a bad team, and it’s one that has exactly one unit that’s both healthy (maybe) and effective – a Shane Larkin-Wayne Ellington-Johnson-Thad Young-Brook Lopez look is the only Nets fivesome that may be an option Wednesday that’s played at least 20 minutes together and has a positive net rating.

No, seriously. And it may not be available.

Injury Updates
Nets: Jack (torn ACL), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (fractured ankle), and Chris McCullough (torn ACL) remain sidelined. Johnson is considered questionable with a left quad strain he suffered Monday. The rotation will look something like this:

PG: Larkin, Donald Sloan
SG: Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown
SF: (Johnson), Ellington, Sergey Karasev
PF: Young, Thomas Robinson, Willie Reed
C: Lopez, Andrea Bargnani

I mean…really? The Raptors need to kick-punch the Nets right in the mouth, get their stars some extended rest and their young guys some run, prove they can put a bad team away, and get a bit of momentum back after two tough losses. The Nets were bad last year, too, though, and the teams split the season series.

Raptors: DeMarre Carroll sat Monday with swelling in his right knee and absolutely should not play Wednesday. I’m not a doctor, so take my opinion with a giant grain of salt, but I explained my stance on this Monday. The Raptors have not assigned anyone to the D-League as of this writing, so their rotation will look something like this if Carroll’s out:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, Norman Powell
SF: (Carroll), James Johnson, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, (Anthony Bennett)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Talking with The Brooklyn Game
To help set the stage, we reached out to the excellent Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game to answer some questions. I felt like a real asshole by the time the email was done, as I couldn’t think of anything remotely positive to ask about.

Blake Murphy: I’m sorry, man. You don’t deserve this. Two years removed from a solid playoff run (sigh), the Nets are 10-24, without their own pick, and without a clear path to move forward on. Are you OK, buddy?

Devin Kharpertian: I’m doing just great. My thought process on this: The Nets made their bed. This is the other side of them mortgaging their future, a lesson about creating contingency plans. The Nets are in this position because they took one enormous, all-in shot at winning it all, and failed spectacularly. This is the fallout. If anything, it’s oddly fascinating, albeit macabre.

(It is awful to watch, though.)

Blake Murphy: The Rondae Hollis-Jefferson injury sucks. He’s a guy I know a lot of Raptors fans liked at No. 20. How did he look pre-injury, and are you encouraged his upside his higher than what his No. 23 status would suggest?

Devin Kharpertian: He was great. His on-ball defense was so advanced that after the first game, I joked that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the greatest wing defender in Nets history. And it might not be a joke. His ability to stay in front of guys and recover around screens is preternatural.

His jump shot is what brought him down, and it’s a legitimate issue; he can’t shoot from outside the mid-range area (he called himself “the mid-range assassin” on media day). But it’s easier to teach a jumper than it is to teach a guy to get into his man defensively every single possession. He’s got that. Hopefully he comes back 100% and doesn’t have any more issues, because he’s the brightest ray shining through Brooklyn’s dark cloud.

Blake Murphy: Brook Lopez has been kind of awesome. Joe Johnson has, uhh, not. Any chance Lopez gets shopped to push a rebuild, and any chance Johnson gets bought out to play backup PF for a contender down the stretch?

Devin Kharpertian: I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few phone calls, but I don’t expect either to move. Lopez is the only reason this team’s generating offense, and the Nets have no real incentive to trade Johnson for anything — his value’s at an all-time low and his contract expires this season anyway. But the Nets always seem to pull something off, good or bad.

Blake Murphy: How are you enjoying The Andrea Bargnani Experience?

Devin Kharpertian: As much as Lionel Hollins.

The Line
The Raptors were 6.5-point favorites as of Tuesday evening, with a very nice 69 percent of action going their way. That seems to indicate the line could move Wednesday (it hasn’t as of 11 a.m.), and I’d expect to see the 196.5 over-under to nudge back downward (it started at 196; the Raptors may be able to hang a nice number but the Nets are a slightly below-average team for pace and the Raptors are 27th in pace, right where they [should] like it).

Raptors 101, Nets 91.

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