Gameday: Raptors @ Nets, Jan. 17

Oh hey, the Brooklyn Nets again!

Fresh from a four-game home-stand that saw them build a three-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors now hit the road for three, starting at Barclays Center. The Raptors just took care of the Nets on Friday, setting a franchise record for points scored in a regulation game after allowing the Nets to hang around well into the third quarter. This time around, with a back-to-back situation, the Raptors would be well-served to put them away even earlier, getting their stars some rest (which, on the surface, was likely a goal during this six-game downturn in schedule quality).

But teams can’t be taken lightly, even ones at the bottom. The Nets fire a ton of threes to help them stay in games, and the Raptors aren’t exactly known for playing 48 minutes at the height of their abilities. The NBA isn’t a ladder where the worst teams go 0-82, and on any given night a team like the Raptors can be caught napping. Or so head coach Dwane Casey will surely tell them, because on the surface, yeah, Toronto should cruise to 3-0 against the Nets here. It’s too early in the season to do this, maybe, but it wouldn’t even be all that surprising if someone sat down for rest against a team that’s dropped 10 in a row.

This also marks the halfway point of Toronto’s season. They’ll either wrap the first half 28-13, a game-and-a-half out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, or 27-14 and two-and-a-half games back.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on TSN 1/3/4 and Sportsnet 590.

To help set the stage, we reached out to Anthony Puccio of Nets Daily, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: The Nets were able to hang around against the Raptors last week thanks to some ridiculously hot shooting. Eventually, the Raptors flipped the switch, but for the most part this seems to be the Nets’ strategy – opt for the high-variance approach, firing up a ton of triples that could swing the game on the rare occasion they get hot. For an opposing defense, is there a way to goad the Nets off the 3-point line, or are they fully in on #ShootYourShot2017?

Anthony Puccio: The #ShootYourShot2017 identity is most appropriate for this team. The Nets are 3rd in the NBA for 3-pointers attempted at 33 per game while hitting 11 per, which ranks 5th in the NBA. Don’t let it fool you. They hit a lot because they simply take a lot, but otherwise they’re bottom-3 in the NBA at 33.7 percent. They just matched a franchise record 44 attempts in a loss to Houston.

Coach Kenny Atkinson wants to implement this style now and for the future. The hope is that they’ll have guys that can fill the role and become something like D’Antoni’s Rockets. For now, Brook Lopez is the teams most efficient 3-point shooter at 35 percent. That should tell you enough.

Blake Murphy: Greivis Vasquez and Anthony Bennett have both moved on from the Nets, leaving only James Herbert and Luis Scola as Raptors cast-offs there (and now, I suppose, our dude Quincy Acy). Even with his on-court role minimized, has Scola’s presence been felt around this team as much as it was in Toronto?

Anthony Puccio: The new regime is really set on implementing a culture led by veterans whom can teach the young guys the ropes. That being said, Scola fits the ‘leadership’ role perfect. He’s very well-respected — not only by the younger players, but executives and coaches within the organization as well.

Blake Murphy: It seems to me like Caris LeVert is going to be a useful NBA player. How high are you on his game long-term?

Anthony Puccio: During a time where there isn’t much to cling on to, LeVert is a breath of fresh air for the Nets. He fits the script of what they want: good character, versatile and lanky with great court vision. He’s essentially positionless – something Atkinson/Marks value in today’s modernized NBA. His upside is really astonishing.

Blake Murphy: How excited are you to be rid of Alex Wong in a week or so?

Anthony Puccio: It can’t come soon enough!

On a serious note, Alex is one of the most genuine people I’ve met on the job. Barclays will not be the same without him. Your gain. Our loss.

Blake Murphy: Is there any chance the Nets look to move on from Brook Lopez between now and the trade deadline? The plodding center market is a little flooded and there’s value in having a guy like that around a young team, but it would seem he’s the one piece they could unload to help kick-start the building process, at least a bit.

Anthony Puccio: Brook Lopez has been the subject of trade rumors since he entered the league. The Nets are indeed listening to offers, dangling him like usual, but they want two first-rounders for him. Nobody’s biting just yet, but I’m sure that will change around the trade deadline. Some close to the situation have said he wouldn’t oppose a trade, either.

Raptors updates
It would be somewhat surprising to see Patrick Patterson return for this one. The team’s best power forward missed four games, returned for two, and has now missed two more due to a left knee strain, and the team’s been talking up the need for caution here in January. Against Brooklyn, in a back-to-back scenario, it would seem an odd time for him to make his return.

That would likely mean Lucas Nogueira starts at power forward again, as Casey has talked up the rebounding that duo provides. In 87 minutes over eight games together now, the Nogueira-Valanciunas duo is pulling in 54.9 percent of available rebounds, 78 percent on their own glass, and the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 15 points per-100 possessions. That’s a remarkable small-sample success for a look that would normally cause some problems. It’s matchup-dependent still, but it’s been really encouraging (and successful) so far.

Elsewhere, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if someone got a night off to rest, although running so thin on players already may make that difficult. Jared Sullinger and Delon Wright are listed as out until we hear otherwise in their progress, and while Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo traveled with the team instead of staying behind for the D-League Showcase, they’d still be running a little thin with someone else sitting down. It’s January, I probably shouldn’t even be mentioning this yet.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
TBD: Patrick Patterson
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger

Nets updates
The Nets will once again be without Jeremy Lin for this one, but they appear to be healthy other than that. Brook Lopez rested Sunday and should return here, and Isaiah Whitehead, who missed Friday’s game, returned over the weekend.

The rotation is still a little bit up in the air as Atkinson tries to find the right mix of players, the right mix of youth and veterans, and as the young players improve or take steps back. The former starting lineup with Sean Kilpatrick (and Whitehead, who came off the bench Sunday) in place of Joe Harris is their only one to have played more than 51 minutes together, which is fairly astounding this late into the season. There are a couple of lineups that have looked decent in tiny samples – their all-bench unit was productive against Toronto, for example – but this is all going to be feel and experimentation for a long time to come still. That’s just where they are on the development curve.

As far as matchups, the Nets don’t have great options to throw at DeRozan outside of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Lowry should be able to eat against their guards. You just saw this Friday, you know what to expect.

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Whitehead, Randy Foye
SG: Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Trevor Booker, Quincy Acy
C: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
Out: Jeremy Lin

The line
The Raptors are 11-point favorites on the road. That’s a pretty substantial line away from home, especially after the Raptors were “only” 15-point favorites on Friday (generally you’d expect that to swing about six points). There’s no new information here for either side, just a stab at whether the Raptors pull away quickly and close it out or if the Nets hang around too long or make a late push like the Knicks on Sunday. The over-under sits at 226.5.

Raptors 115, Nets 101

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