Coming off of a promising win over the Orlando Magic, the Raptors bring their four-game win streak to Brooklyn to face a Nets team that has lost three of their last four games. With their most recent loss against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets missed an opportunity to pass the Detroit Pistons in the revolving door that is the race for the six-seed.
This is the fourth and final meeting for the two division rivals this season, with the Raptors winning the last two contests after dropping an overtime thriller in December that sparked Brooklyn’s surprising turnaround. However, tonight is the first matchup between the two in which the Nets will have their full complement of scoring guards (D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, & Caris Levert) in the lineup.
In particular, this is Raptors fans first chance this season to see Levert at full strength as the last matchup was only his second game back in the lineup after missing almost three months to a gruesome early-season ankle injury. Upon returning in February, Levert struggled to fit back into a team that was essentially his before he went down. With Russell finally turning the corner during Levert’s absence and Dinwiddie playing the best ball of his career, it looked as though Levert’s ball-dominant style of play was creating a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ situation for Brooklyn.
However, thankfully, Levert’s perked up as of late, averaging 18.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists over his last four contests. The fit with Russell or Dinwiddie is still fairly clumsy, a lot of your-turn-my-turn, but considering how much trouble the Raptors have had containing the Nets’ guards this season, Levert returning to form arguably makes Brooklyn the most dangerous first-round opponent the Raptors could face.
Regardless, the biggest challenge for the Raptors in this one is whether they can slow down first-time all-star D’Angelo Russell. In the three matchups this season, Russell has torn apart the Raptors defense to the tune of 27 points and 9 assists per game on decent efficiency. In particular, Russell has feasted against the Raptors ‘dropping’ the big when defending the pick and roll, as the in-between game (floaters, pull-ups, etc) that scheme is designed to surrender is one of Russell’s greatest strengths. It’ll be interesting to see if Head Coach Nick Nurse decides to experiment against Russell to gauge the viability of different coverages come playoff time.
Another thing to monitor is Kyle Lowry’s ability to score against this Nets defense as he’s averaged a mere 6.7 points in their three meetings this season. Considering two of those games came during the bizarre December-January stretch where Lowry forgot how to shoot, this isn’t as big of a concern as it may seem. Still, a solid scoring effort from Lowry would quell any doubts about his ability to score heading into a possible playoff matchup.
The two biggest keys to the Raptors pulling this one out, however, are defensive rebounding and protecting the three-point line. In the lone game the Raptors dropped to the Nets this season, Brooklyn outrebounded them 60-41, and in their most recent matchup– which required some Kawhi Leonard heroics to pull out– the Nets shot 20/41 from beyond with plenty of those attempts being wide-open. Take care of those two areas and the Raptors greatly reduce Brooklyn’s chances of keeping it competitive.
Tip-off: 7:30 pm
TV: TSN, RDS2
Allen Crabbe (sore knee) is out for this one.
PG: D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Shabazz Napier
SG: Joe Harris, Caris Levert, Theo Pinson
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Treveon Graham, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Rodions Kurucs, Jared Dudley
C: Jarrett Allen, Ed Davis
OG Anunoby (concussion) is questionable and Patrick McCaw (thumb) is out indefinitely.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jodie Meeks
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher