Pre-Game

Game Day: Nets @ Raptors, Jan. 18

In their second meeting of the season the Brooklyn Nets arrive to play the Toronto Raptors with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m., airing on Sportsnet One. This match is one of 10 games featured on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, NBA line-up.

It sure feels like the Raptors and the fan base are returning from a holiday given the London trip and solo game versus Orlando make this just their second game in the past 9 days. The Raptors absence on the court will be remedied in a big way as tonight launches a 7-game stretch of what will tie the teams longest home stand of the season.

While the Raptors traveled over seas the Nets under took their own odyssey of excitement. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired, GM Billy King was reassigned and assistant Paul Westphal is also gone. For now the coaching responsibilities will be handled on an interim basis by Tony Brown with no immediate plans to replace King. This ESPN article covers the details.

In fairness neither Hollins or King stood a chance in hell of being competitive this season with the current roster. The future of the franchise was forfeited when billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov demanded to “win now”. King mortgaged the Nets future giving away draft picks and spent large in free agency to acquire players, all of whom are no longer Nets: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams.

For Raptors fans who think a poison pill is hard to swallow imagine being hampered with a small forward earning close to $25 million ($24,894,863) this season while shooting career lows from the field (38%) and behind the arc (35%). To put the Joe Johnson situation in perspective, he’s playing close to 12 minutes more a game than Terrence Ross, but scoring just 11.4 points. Ross for his part is scoring 7.9 ppg shooting 40.4% from the field and over 35% from behind the arc. To wit, it’s hard to believe Johnson is the same player who handcuffed Ross and the Raptors just 2 seasons ago.

Now imagine your odds of finishing in the bottom 5 of the Association by season end are 99 to 1. But, the reward you earn for that is getting to watch Celtics GM Danny Ainge select Ben Simmons in the 2016 draft. Yep, playing the Nets is the perfect reminder of how far the Raptors franchise has come. And, if you are a vengeful sort, then the fact the Nets stole Vince Carter in arguably the most lopsided trade in NBA history this may serve as a reminder of how karma works.

Suffice to say, as Raptors fans we can commiserate over the Nets situation, but use it as a reminder to never return to the dregs of that abyss. In a bit of dramatic irony it is said the Russian is in talks with Brian Colangelo to take over the GM reigns in Brooklyn.

In terms of the game here’s the particulars:

Walking wounded:

Nets:

Raptors:

As per rotoworld and CBS Sports

Projected rotation:

Nets:

Point Guard: Shane Larkin, Donald Sloan
Shooting Guard: Bojan Bogdanovic, Markel Brown
Small Forward: Joe Johnson, Wayne Ellington, (Sergey Karasev)
Power Forward: Thaddeus Young, Thomas Robinson, Willie Reed
Center: Brook Lopez, (Andrea Bargnani)

Raptors:

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
Small Forward: James Johnson, Terrence Ross (likely to play at both SG and SF)
Power Forward: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Note: Anthony Bennett, Delon Wright and Bruno Caboclo were all re-assigned to the D-League affiliate January 16th. As per Blake’s article there is a good chance Wright and Bennett could return to the varsity team since Raptors 905 will be on the road until January 27th.

Stat comparison:

Nets at Raptors stat comp

Not much has changed performance wise since the Raptors played the Nets 12 days ago. Since then the Nets have played 6 times with 1 win over their divisional rival Knicks. Brooklyn continue to suffer at both ends of the hardwood and can lay claim to only a couple areas of expertise: offensive rebounding, the discipline to not foul and a fairly decent  level of assists.

One notable stat of interest I’ve been paying attention to this season is pace. In general very few teams are able to push pace resulting in offensive prowess while also delivering solid defense. Other teams who are pace setters and also defensively inept are the Kings, Suns, Wizards, Sixers and Rockets. The Celtics are interesting in that they are among the top 5 pace setters (3rd), but it’s defense where they excel not offense.

Conversely teams who play with slower pace like the Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, Magic, Jazz and Raptors find themselves in the upper echelon defensively. With the return of Irving, Cleveland will likely climb up the pace ladder, but for the most part I’ve found very few exceptions to my findings.

That is until you look at Brooklyn who are a slower paced team (20th) but also in the bottom offensively (28th) and defensively (23rd).

The moral of the pace story is there are exceptions to every rule with teams like Golden State being able to excel across the board and teams like Brooklyn who are equally as bad across the board.

Key match-up:

With a nod to Thaddeus Young and an improving Shane Larkin the real game planning for Casey will be how to limit Brook Lopez. Since Lopez isn’t necessarily considered an agile center this is one of those perfect old school center style match-ups for Jonas Valanciunas. Case in point, last time out JV scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, shot 6 of 6 from the line, blocked 2 shots, had a steal and was a plus +20 all accomplished in under 30 minutes (29:33).

Lopez was also productive scoring 24 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, had 3 blocks and was a minus -8  in just over 40 minutes.

Three Keys to the win:

  • Take care of business: i.e. beat the teams you should.
  • Establish the bench: games like these were meant specifically for the bench to build chemistry, get additional run time together and most importantly to allow Lowry and DeRozan to play less than 30 minutes. Sure, they just returned from London and 1 game over 9 days, but this is more about establishing the habit of what to do against lower end teams.
  • Start 7 game stand with a win: if you take a look at the schedules of all 30 teams in the Association you’ll quickly learn it’s highly unusual to get long home stands, especially more than one per season. The Raptors luck out getting three of 6 games or more, 2 of which come in the second half of the schedule. Now that Toronto has dispensed of more than half their road games (23 of 41) with a 14-9 winning record it’s time for them to capitalize at home.  Another major advantage of extended home stands is the ability to practice. Emphasis will be placed on improving mistakes the team has earmarked over the first  half of the season.  A side benefit may very well be increased chemistry which we are starting to see translate onto the court, especially with the bench unit.

The line:

The odds makers are all in on Toronto taking down the Nets favoring them by 11.5 points with an over under of 198 points and early heavy action on the home town Raptors.

If you recall the January 6th game in Brooklyn it was one of those clunkers you immediately want to forget as soon as it’s over, thankful to just have recorded the ‘W’. Today the goal should be to take care of business by putting the Nets out of their misery early and to get the starters off the floor as soon as possible.

Hard to imagine Lowry and DeRozan replicating their London performance (poor shooting) especially when you factor in the Nets allow teams to shoot 52% and don’t score 100 points of their own. That combination sure seems like a recipe for a Raptors blow out.  But, remember the Raptors have played just one game in 9 days. Look for signs of them languishing in the first quarter and then locking down defensively to offset the situation until they get into game flow.

Another factor which might influence the performance is today is the last day for All-Star fan voting. With increased viewership due to the holiday stateside look for Lowry and DeRozan to put on a show as they punctuate why they deserve your consideration. To that end, expect to hear Matt Devlin repeatedly tell you to get your votes in prior to midnight throughout the broadcast.

In closing in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” –  Martin Luther King Jr.

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