Gameday: Nets vs Raptors, April 27

A Toronto Raptors win. A Washington Wizards loss (the spirit of DeMar DeRozan lives on). Consider the push for the Play[offs]-In jumpstarted! Next up: the Brooklyn Nets.

10 mins read
Photo via Raptors Twitter

Sorry, all you can-tank-erous types.

But herrreee we commmeee.

Strike Cleveland off the list like Steve Buschemi crossing off Billy Madison.

Los Angeles Kawhis
Los Angeles Lebrons
The Kawhis again

{BRK?L__[YN] – or however you spell it

Photo via Netstore.com

these days – is next.

And, I’m feeling good about it. It’s probably the three cups of coffee coursing through my veins, but the momentum is viscerally in the room with me, pulsating and rising by the chronon.

Ya, ya, ya. It’s a long shot. Okay. But this is what fandom is about. It’s not about pragmatism or long-term planning or strategic foresight exercises. It’s about – I guess, now that I think about it, so is gambling – believing in that narrow chance of success and cheering really, really, really hard for it.

That’s what makes all sports – to play or observe – so damn fun!

So. Now that I have you all convinced about how exciting the next three weeks are going to be, here’s where we’re at.

Last night:

  • Wiz lost in OT (hooj!);
  • Bulls won (whatevs, not too worried);
  • The Raps are one back of 10th.

As I said yesterday, the true gauntlet begins tonight.

The Skinny

I dunno what it is, but every Preview I do seems to be a back-to-back. Really takes the wind out of my morning sails. I am, once again, obligated to remind you that Toronto is a league-worst 2-11 with no rest.

But. That was the old Raps – the benchless ones. They’ve shed that skin. The new Raptors have a bench with a little blood and vinegar in ’em.

Last night, for example, led by All-Rookie Team candidate (ya, I said it), Malachi Flynn, the reserves gave the Raps 36 points of Jolt. That, mixed with some pesky defence, allowed Nick Nurse to rest starters and mix-up bench units – something, resident writer, Oren Weisfeld, has noted, Nurse is still experimenting with – down the stretch. Only Kyle played more than 15 minutes in the second half.

I acknowledge it was a Collin Sexton-less Cleveland that they beat by a small margin, but the inkling of optimism persists. Need I remind you, only a week ago, the bench performed similarly against the very same Brooklyn Nets.

They’re no dominant force. The bench has been inconsistent. But the way the Raptors starters are igniting into one giant, cohesive fireball, all the bench needs to do is keep it Kosher.

Freddy G throwing guys out of the paint like he’s an overzealous bouncer. Gary Trent Jr., Flynn, Yuta Watanabe, and Stanley Johson (when he plays) getting in the shorts of opposing ballhandlers and slashers. And GTJ and Flynn asserting themselves on the offensive end: Flynn in the confident, intrusive, point-of-attack way he’s shown over the last little while and GTJ with a [more thoughtful] assertive shot selection.

We get most of that and our starting five has a shot to scrap with anyone.

Even against Brooklyn, who (it must be nice) is in a little, less urgent, but still important race of their own. They currently hold top spot in the Eastern Conference by a thin Tom Thibodeau-hair over Philadelphia.

It’s important. Fall to second and you’re logging seven-game series against the likes of Miami/Boston in the first round (as of right now) and Milwaukee or 76ers/Nets. That’s a lot of court conflagration pre-Conference Finals.

The Nets have not been doing themselves any favours of late. Their wins/loss column looks like a game of Connect 4, the last eleven:


That last L was against these very same Raptors. The first of Core4 + Khem Birch. And, possibly, the resuscitation of the Raptors’ season.

Brooklyn lacks the firepower and creative diversity without James Harden and Kevin Durant…obviously.

I mean, Kyrie Irving, can almost singlehandedly do it himself. I cannot convey to you in binary code’s expression of the English language how freaking, Goshdarn, AWEsome Kyrie is.

His handles are obscenely sharp, quick, and hornswoggling. You cannot for a second trust your perception of his reality; any conclusion of where he’s going or what he’s doing is illusory. If you try, he disembodies defenders with quantum-splicing jump shots and decadent french-pastry finishes.

But 28 points and 8 assists were not enough last match; henchmen, Joe Harris and Jeff Green, died anonymous deaths in the early scenes of the first quarter and never cameoed again. Other than Kyrie, only Bruce Brown participated in keeping the Nets afloat.

The Nets are deep when healthy; when it was only Kyrie of the Tremendous Three on the floor, the Raptors squeezed him up with multiple defenders and scrambled confidently knowing that only Joe Harris remained as a significant threat.

Now, welcome Kevin Durant back aboard, and we’re no longer talking Brett Hart and the Hart Foundation type stuff. No, no, no. Now, it’s the Earthquake and Typhoon kind of scoring power.

In 763 possessions together, Kyrie and Durant lineups are in the 97th percentile for scoring, 99th percentile for effective field goal percentage, and 93rd percentile in point differential. There’s no need to tell you why it’s so glamourous. They’re two of history’s best scorers all-time.

‘Nuff said.

Against Phoenix, Durant was slowly reintroduced into the NBA after another injury hiatus, playing 8 minutes in the first half; then, of course, exploding for 24 points in 20 minutes in the second. Phoenix was up two in the first half and lost the game by nine – Kyrie and KD combined for 77 of the Nets’ 128.

Toronto is going to need to slow at least one of those two mammoths down – like how they halted Kyrie for the 2nd and 3rd quarter last game – and score a high enough clip to contend. The question will be if they can muster that kind of defensive intensity and offensive might on a back-to-back to do so.

Siakam and/or OG on a “rusty” Durant is a hopeful matchup. Both will at least have a chance to challenge his 7-foot shot release and with KD still getting into gameshape, OG, especially, can smother his off-dribble stuff. Something like this complete throttling last night would be ideal, OG – please and thank you:

A frisky bench and Freddy G, the Block Baron, to boot will also certainly help the cause:

Game Info

Tip-Off: 7:30pm EDT | TV: SportsNet1; YES | Radio: TSN RADIO 1050

Raptors Lineup

Gary Trent Jr. (leg contusion) missed last game and is day-to-day.

Paul Watson (knee), Chris Boucher, and Jalen Harris (hip) are likely out.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Malachi Flynn

SG: Fred VanVleet, Rodney Hood

SF: OG Anunoby, DeAndre’ Bembry, Stanley Johnson

PF: Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, Yuta Watanabe

C: Freddie Gillespie, Aron Baynes

Nets Lineup

Harden is out after suffering a setback with his hamstring injury (not good).

Alize Johnson (our 905 boy!) and Nicholas Claxton are also out (Covid Protocols).

Bruce Brown (sore knee), Chris Chiozza (fractured hand), and, of course, Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) are out too.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Mike James

SG: Landry Shamet

SF: Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot

PF: Jeff Green, Blake Griffin, Reggie Perry

C: DeAndre Jordan

The Line

The NETS are favoured by 6.5 – rude.

The O/U is sitting at a big-time 231.5. Raps are 8-5 on the O/U of second halves of back-to-backs. Last five games the Nets have averaged 116/game and the Raps 111/game – you do the math.

Bet wisely, friends.

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