Two years ago at this time, the Toronto Raptors were preparing for their first playoff series in half a decade. The Brooklyn Nets stood as their opponent, the complete opposite of the young, surprising 2013-14 Raptors as an expensive, battle-tested, veteran group perhaps on their final run.
Fast forward to today, and the two sides are once again in very different positions. The Raptors are trying to close out the best season in franchise history by just staying healthy ahead of their third playoff appearance in a row, while the Nets just want the season to be over. Their stars have already packed it in. What’s left of the Nets host the Raptors for an 8 p.m. tip-off on TSN.
Blake Murphy: This season has been…bad for the Nets. Little forward traction, they don’t own their own first-round pick, and they weren’t really able to add assets at the deadline. You deserve much, much better. But what’s the positive here? What’s something Nets fans can look to and say “OK, at least there’s this?”
Devin Kharpertian: Well, they’re not as far off as their record suggests. Make no mistake: they’re bad right now. Really bad. Historically bad. But they’ve got two legitimate building blocks (Brook Lopez & Thaddeus Young), two solid rookies with high upside (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough), a bevy of young players under “evaluation,” and gobs of cap room this offseason. They have options and room to grow. They have a general manager who should have autonomy. There’s a long, difficult road ahead, but there’s a sliver of a sliver of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Blake Murphy: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s back and playing, and may have just turned in the best night of his career on Monday. Obviously, losing a big chunk of his rookie season hurts, but how encouraged are you by his play this year?
Devin Kharpertian: His energy is infectious. The team’s defense changes instantaneously when he enters the game. I’ve never seen a rookie cover for so many defensive miscues that had nothing to do with him before. His instincts on that end are incredible, and it’s a shame he both missed 50 games and is wasting his talents on a team that has zero visibility around the league. The good news is he’s got a lot of time to get noticed. He will.
Blake Murphy: Have you tried any of his baking?
Devin Kharpertian: I have not but I promise to ask Brook Lopez about it the next time I get a chance. If he’s as good a baker as he is a pianist then send a few croissants my way.
Blake Murphy: We talked a bit about Chris McCullough about a month ago, I think, when he was just beginning to see game action. Now he’s playing regularly and starting to flash some of what made him a potential stretch-four (if not the rim-protection aspects). Similarly encouraged here?
Devin Kharpertian: He’s clearly still getting used to the NBA speed, which you can understand: most rookies take more than a season to adjust, and he’s only had about two dozen games to pick up how the game works. But the pieces are there: he’s athletic, he’s got more bounce than I expected, and his instincts on the defensive end are a welcome surprise. The good news for him is that the Nets already have two established big men, so McCullough can take time to develop as a backup until he’s ready to be a full-time player.
Blake Murphy: How glad are you that the Sixers hired Bryan Colangelo instead of the Nets?
Devin Kharpertian: Maybe I can get Rondae to bake a cake with the message “TRUST THE PROCESS” written in icing.
What’s at stake
Literally nothing for the Raptors. Eyes will be on Indiana and Detroit, the Easts’ 3-6 jumble, and the Knicks and Nuggets, but the Raptors have no goals other than to keep everyone healthy, keep everyone sharp, and possibly push their franchise-best win total one higher to 56 (56!!). This is it, the final game of the season. After this, it’s the playoffs.
DeMarre Carroll will sit as part of the team’s plan for his recovery. There’s little sense in him playing and risking additional wear-and-tear, even if he could shake some additional rust off – he’s looked solid in three outings, better each game, and he won’t have to play in a back-to-back scenario in the playoffs. He told reporters Tuesday that he asked to play but the team said no.
James Johnson sat Tuesday with foot soreness, and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go Wednesday. Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph sat for rest Tuesday and should figure back in Wednesday. Everyone else is a candidate for rest, especially Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. For now, we assume everyone but Carroll goes, because we haven’t heard otherwise.
PG: Lowry, Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Norman Powell, T.J. Ross
SF: DeRozan, Johnson, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Luis Scola, Patterson, Jason Thompson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira
Let’s get weird with some last-night-of-the-season lineups. Give me Wright-Powell-Caboclo-Thompson-Nogueira. Give it to me.
Oh boy. Brook Lopez and Thad Young have been shut down for additional rest. Jarrett Jack tore his ACL. Willie Reed is out due to a personal matter, and Sergey Karasev is questionable for a similar reason. Thomas Robinson is out with a knee injury, too. Henry Sims and Sean Kilpatrick have been added to help get the team through the final stretch.
PG: Shane Larkin, Donald Sloan
SG: Wayne Ellington, Kilpatrick, Markel Brown
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Chris McCullough
C: Henry Sims
They don’t even play real lineups anymore. RHJ might wind up playing center and providing halftime catering for all we know.
The line is off the board as of this writing but expect the Raptors to be somewhere in the 8-point favorite range. They were 10.5-point favorites at home against Philly, and this one’s on the road with even more rest likely.
What else to watch Wednesday
Earlier this week, we broke down what was on the line for the Raptors around the league in the season’s final three days. We now know the Raptors will play the Pacers in round one, but here are two other races to keep an eye on as you’re score-watching.
East’s 3-6 seeds: The Raptors would draw the winner of the 3-6 matchup if they make it to the second round, and while it’s certainly not worth looking past the Pacers, some will or are.
3. Miami, 48-33, @ Bos, tiebreaker vs. Atl, Cha, 3-way with Atl & Bos
4. Atlanta, 48-33, @ Was, tiebreaker vs. Bos, Cha
5. Boston, 47-34, vs. Mia, tiebreaker vs. Mia, Cha
6. Charlotte, 47-34, vs. Orl, no tiebreakers
Miami can lock down the three-seed by beating Boston, but a Boston win would allow Atlanta to grab that spot. A Boston win would also lock Charlotte into the six-spot, but a Miami win would give them a shot to rise as high as five (the Hornets can’t earn home court).
Knicks-Nuggets pick: As a reminder, the Raptors will get the lesser (worse) of the Knicks or Nuggets first-round picks, following the lottery. The Nuggets get first dibs between the two picks after ping-pong balls are drawn, and the Raptors get the other. Mostly, the Raptors benefit from the Nuggets’ ineptitude, not the Knicks, but there are low-probability scenarios where it’s best for the Raptors if both the Knicks and Nuggets do poorly.
Here’s a matrix of where the Raptors’ pick could land, given each potential landing spot for the Knicks and Nuggets (their order doesn’t matter).
That second column shows the odds the Raptors would have of landing the No. 2 pick with each finish outcome, too. They’re incredibly slim in any case, but if the Knicks and Nuggets were to finish seventh and ninth in the reverse standings, where they currently are, then the Raptors would have what amounts to a 1-in-664 chance (0.1507%) at the No. 2 pick.
The Knicks are locked into seventh, having wrapped the season with a 32-50 record. The Nuggets are locked into the 8-to-10 range for lottery odds, entering Wednesday in a three-way tie at 33-48 with Milwaukee and Sacramento.
7. New York, 32-50
8. Sacramento, 33-48, @ Hou
8. Denver, 33-48, Por
8. Milwaukee, 33-48, vs. Ind
All three teams would be well-served with a loss, and Sacramento faces a Houston team that will desperately need the win (it might matter to Portland, too – I’m writing this before Memphis’ Tuesday game has completed). Indiana’s likely to rest Paul George opposite Milwaukee, and the Bucks may accidentally win. The best case for the Raptors would be the Nuggets losing and both Sacramento and Milwaukee winning.
There’s no tiebreaker for the lottery – if two teams tie, they simply split the lottery odds for those two positions, with a coin flip determining who gets the better draft slot (and the one extra ping-pong ball if it’s an odd number). If three teams tie, it’s a three-way coin flip to determine the order.
We’ll have a post up after these games end letting you know what the Raptors’ chances of nabbing the No. 2 pick are.
There’s also Kobe’s last game and the Warriors going for 73 wins…you should probably watch those. You should definitely watch those instead of Raptors-Nets or Nuggets-Blazers.