The Brooklyn Nets finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and will face the upstart three seed Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors haven’t made the playoffs in years and the Nets will look to rebound after last year’s first round exit against the Bulls. The match-ups alone are interesting. The Nets boast one of the NBA’s oldest rosters, but that old roster, which is led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson, has logged over 17,000 playoff minutes. The Raptors have one of the NBA’s most explosive back courts in point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Can the Nets slow down this dynamic duo?
Both teams have gone on impressive runs which makes this a very captivating playoff series. Since trading small forward Rudy Gay in December, the Raptors have gone 41-22, which is the best record in the Eastern Conference during that span. During this stretch, the Raptors rank 10th in turnover percentage, demonstrating a very diplomatic approach to offense. Center Jonas Valanciunas, who emerged late in the season by averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds, will be a critical player. The Nets have the second worst rebound percentage in the NBA, so Valancuinas will have opportunities around the rim. This Toronto team has a lot of talent, but lacks playoff experience. Can they come together?
On the flip side, the Brooklyn has the second best record in the East since January 1st (34-17). A season ending injury to center Brook Lopez forced Brooklyn into more a ‘small ball approach’ with Pierce playing the power forward position. Brooklyn boasts may grizzled veterans that have championship experience, but backup point guard Shaun Livingston may be their most important player. The 6’7″ Livingston perfectly fits Brooklyn’s small ball approach and his size will be critical to slowing down DeRozan. The Nets average three fewer points with Livingston on the court.
Current NBA odds have Toronto slotted as a 2-point favorite. Toronto opened as a 2.5 point favorite, but were quickly bet down to 2 points. I’m expecting an emotional, spirited opening game from the Raptors. I think Brooklyn will win this series, but Toronto will take Game 1. Lay the points and take the Raptors.
Pick: Toronto -2