For the second season in a row, the Toronto Raptors enter the playoffs with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Their first-round opponent this time? The Brooklyn Nets.
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- Game 1 - Monday, Aug. 17 at 4:00 p.m. (SN)
- Game 2 - Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 1:30 p.m. (TSN)
- Game 3 - Friday, Aug. 21 at 1:30 p.m. (SN)
- Game 4 - Sunday, Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m. (TSN)
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD (SN)
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD (TSN)
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD (SN)
Result: Raptors won 3-1
Best game: Feb 8, 2020 - Raptors 119, Nets 118
Best performance: Caris LeVert (Feb. 8, 2020) - 37 points (12-18 FG, 6-7 3PT, 7-7 FT), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
The first meeting between the Raptors and Nets came early in the season. The Raptors got off to a strong start and never looked back, coming up with the 110-102 win.
Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 30 points - 25 of which came in the first half - but he got plenty of help. Norman Powell scored 25 points starting in place of Fred VanVleet while Marc Gasol (17 points, 15 rebounds) and Serge Ibaka (12 points, 12 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles.
Spicy P dropped 25 points in the first half 🌶#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/Lj8qaKRInp- NBA TV (@NBATV) December 15, 2019
Despite not having Siakam, Gasol or Powell, the Raptors blew the Nets out a couple of weeks later, cruising to a 121-102 win.
VanVleet was the star of the show for the Raptors with his 29-point, 11-assist double-double. Based on Game Score, which gives "a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game," it was VanVleet's fourth-best game of the season.
The @Raptors win in Brooklyn behind @FredVanVleet's 29 PTS and 11 AST. #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/HrPHSBxh9B- NBA (@NBA) January 5, 2020
The third meeting was much closer. The Raptors still came away with the win, but Caris LeVert made things interesting by exploding for 37 points, which marked a new career high at the time.
LeVert came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of Brooklyn's 30 points in the period. His final basket tied the game at 118 with 35 seconds remaining, but Siakam drew a shooting foul on the ensuing possession and made one of his two free throws to secure the win.
GO OFF THEN CARIS.- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 9, 2020
STRAP IN, BROOKLYN. pic.twitter.com/0t9CIEvkYj
The Nets picked up their lone win against the Raptors just before All-Star Weekend, snapping Toronto's franchise-best 15 game winning streak with the 101-91 victory. It was a team effort with five players scoring in double figures for the Nets.
Kyle Lowry said afterwards that the Raptors were " walking zombies ."
"I just think we didn't have enough juice to overcome some of the things that were going on tonight," Lowry explained. "We weren't going to win them all. The break has come at a good time."
Kyrie Irving, who was limited to 20 games this season, missed all four of Brooklyn's games against the Raptors, as did Kevin Durant, who has been sidelined all season long after tearing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Key Storyline: Do the Nets have the firepower to scare the Raptors?
There might not be a team in the bubble that has been hit as hard by injuries and COVID-19 as the Nets.
In addition to Irving and Durant, both of whom have been ruled out for the rest of the season, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan didn't make the trip to Orlando and won't be available for the playoffs.
That's Brooklyn's two leading scorers on the season in Irving (27.4) and Dinwiddie (20.6), its leading rebounder in Jordan (10.0) and two of its best perimeter defenders in Prince and Chandler - not to mention Durant, whose resume speaks for itself.
The Nets have been able to keep their head above water so far in the season restart, but they face a big test in the defending champion Raptors.
The Raptors enter the playoffs at full strength after dealing with their own injuries during the regular season and boast the league's second-best defence. They will be looking to slow down Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, who have been the key to Brooklyn's success in the bubble.
LeVert is leading the way for the Nets in Orlando with 25.0 points and 6.7 assists per game. Harris isn't far behind him in the scoring column with 20.0 points per game on a scorching 54.1 percent shooting from 3-point range while Allen is averaging 15.7 points and 11.0 rebounds to go along with 4.2 assists.
Allen isn't far removed from posting 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a win over the Sacramento Kings, the first such statline from a centre in franchise history.
17 PTS | 11 REB | 8 AST- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 8, 2020
📼 @_bigjayy_ became the first Nets center ever with that statline 📼 pic.twitter.com/WaLWCLa3Ta
For the Nets to have any chance against the Raptors, it starts with those three.
Three Players to Watch
LeVert had a couple of big outings against the Raptors this season.
Not only did he explode for 37 points in one of Brooklyn's losses, LeVert put up 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals in the team's lone win. He scored 13 points in the only other game he played against the Raptors but was limited to 15 minutes because he was coming off an injury.
According to NBA.com Stats , VanVleet and Terence Davis guarded LeVert the most over those three games. Neither of them were able to put up much resistance.
|Defender||Matchup Minutes||Points Scored||FGM-FGA||FTM-FTA|
|Terence Davis||5:58||15||4-6 (66.7%)||4-4 (100%)|
|Fred VanVleet||5:22||15||7-8 (87.5%)||0-0|
Fortunately for the Raptors, they have a number of players they can put on LeVert. In addition to Davis and VanVleet, they have Lowry, Siakam, OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Lowry and VanVleet are Toronto's two-best pick-and-roll defenders while Anunoby, Siakam and Hollis-Jefferson each have the size and length to disrupt him in 1-on-1 situations.
Between the six of them, the Raptors should have the manpower to contain him, but they will have their hands full trying to slow him down.
For a couple of reasons.
The first? Siakam has been one of this season's breakout stars.
He played a huge role in Toronto winning the title this season, but Siakam has taken his game to another level following Kawhi Leonard's departure, bumping his averages to 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The Nets are going to have a hard time matching up with him, especially without Prince, who was Brooklyn's primary defender on Siakam during the regular season.
The second? This will be Siakam's first series as a No. 1 option.
Last season, Siakam had the luxury of playing next to one of the league's best players in Leonard. This season, all eyes will be on him as the Raptors look to defend their title.
There isn't as much pressure on Siakam to carry the load against a team like the Nets, but they will likely need him to be the best player on the court against the likes of the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks if the Raptors are going to make another run at the Finals. How he plays in the first round could set the tone for both him and the Raptors the rest of the way.
Harris is going to be one of the best free agents available in the offseason. There are a number of teams that should pursue him, the Raptors included should VanVleet leave Toronto as an unrestricted free agent himself to sign a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
On the season, Harris is averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game. He's not shooting quite as well as he did last season when he led the league in 3-point percentage, but he's still among the league's most accurate shooters, converting 42.4 percent of his 3-point opportunities. He's a big-time threat from a standstill and on the move - only three players are averaging more points per game than him off of screens - and he's grown tremendously as a driver over the last couple of seasons.
Joe could not miss in the first half last night 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/igylshC7XN- Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 10, 2020
With how short-handed the Nets are, this could be Harris' last opportunity to prove himself heading into free agency.
Picks and Predictions
Scott Rafferty: Raptors in five
Gilbert McGregor: Raptors in five
Carlan Gay: Raptors in five
Alex Novick: Raptors in four
Benyam Kidane : Raptors in five
Yash Matange: Raptors in five
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