Raptors-Nets Playoff Preview: Five Key Factors

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lowryThe twists and turns for the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors over the course of the regular season could almost rival those of the red and purple weddings on a certain Game show based in Westeros.

Brooklyn had championship aspirations ever since it acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on draft night, but ended the 2013 calendar year at 10-21, with All-Star center Brook Lopez out for the season, and searching for answers under rookie head coach Jason Kidd. While Pierce and Garnett were important in getting the Nets into the postseason, Kidd’s insertion of another offseason signing, Shaun Livingston, into the starting five is what really propelled the team on both ends.

Toronto’s aspirations were thousands of miles from lofty. Head coach Dwane Casey readily admitted throughout the season that the Raptors did not expect to reach the postseason. They offloaded Rudy Gay in a deal that most thought would get the team closer to Canadian prodigy Andrew Wiggins, not the postseason. But surprisingly, everything was coming up Raptors.

Kyle Lowry pushed past the dogged trade rumors and had a tremendous regular season. DeMar DeRozan finally developed into an All-Star scorer and lived up to his lucrative contract. Jonas Valanciunas continued his improvement. Native son Drake became a team brand ambassador, and the team took home the Atlantic Division title and the third seed in the East.

So that’s how the Nets and Raptors, and not the Knicks or Celtics, became the two Atlantic teams to reach the postseason. And now they face one another in what could be the most tightly contested series in the conference. Here are five factors you should look out for over the course of the next two weeks.

PODCAST: Michael Scotto on Brooklyn’s Playoff Chances and Fixing the Knicks

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The Brooklyn Nets are legitimate contenders to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference – whether or not LeBron James wants to admit it – as I outlined in my latest column.

As for New York, the futures of Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson will be impacted heavily if the Knicks fail to reach the playoffs – a likely scenario.

With the Nets seemingly entrenched as the fifth seed and the Knicks on the brink of mathematical elimination, I joined WFAN Sports Radio 660 AM and host Demetri Adrahtas. We discussed Brooklyn’s playoffs chances and the team’s x-factors along with a blueprint for Phil Jackson to fix the Knicks and what to do with Carmelo Anthony.

Here’s the podcast in its entirety:

More Basketball Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Sheridan Hoops Radio on BlogTalkRadio

Michael Scotto is a Sheridan Hoops NBA columnist. You can follow him on Twitter

Scotto: Brooklyn Nets are Legit Contenders After Sweeping LeBron — UPDATED

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LeBron James trophyNo team has done what the Nets have done. And going into the playoffs, what they’ve done should not be dismissed.

On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets became the first team ever to post a 4-0 season series sweep over LeBron James since he entered the league more than a decade ago.

After being crowned by the Nets, James took out his frustration on TNT’s Craig Sager during a postgame interview when asked if Brooklyn was Miami’s biggest challenge in the East.

“Get out of here, Craig,” James replied. “Next question.”

While James avoided the question, there’s no denying it – Brooklyn has a legitimate chance to win the East now.

Scotto: Nets Want Raptors, Not Bulls in Playoffs

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1909fuhgeddabouditThe Nets and Bulls are on course for a potential rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series.

Is this the ideal scenario for Brooklyn? As they say in the borough, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”

It’s been a frigid winter in Brooklyn, and a trip to the “Windy City” could dampen any hopes of the Nets springing ahead to the next round.

SH Blog – Chicago outlast Miami, Meeks goes off and LeBron’s visit to Cleveland.

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Good evening hoops fans.

This is my first crack at the Sheridan Hoops blog for quite some time, but rest assured, I will do my upmost to fill the void left by some of the blog’s veterans.

As always, there was plenty going on around the league. We’ve had upsets, injuries and brilliant individual performances on this NBA Sunday. Oh, and that team in New York is still attracting headlines.

Let’s get to it!

Bulls outlast Heat

Chicago again proved that it is at the very least capable of causing the defending champions some issues in the postseason, this time it was a gutsy overtime win at home. The Bulls out-rebounded, out-worked and out-passed the Heat while also restricting them to 40% from the field.

Most importantly, they kept LeBron quiet. Well, relatively quiet (even on this ‘quiet day’ James was a rebound and two dimes away from a triple double).

LeBron had  17 points on 8-23 shooting. Not the usual output you’d expect from the King after 45 minutes of court time. The big stat that came out of the game today: it was the first time in 332 NBA games that James went without shooting a free throw. Joakim Noah

Joakim Noah continued his stellar form with another match MVP performance. Putting together a box score of 20 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks. Noah is averaging an impressive 7.1 assists across the last month.

Noah told Sean Highkin of USA Today Sports:

“This is what you play basketball for,” Noah said. “I love it. I’m having a great time. I’m having a blast out there. Beating Miami, I don’t care if it’s regular season, it’s always special.”

Young guard Jimmy Butler also praised Noah’s brilliant play and leadership:

“He’s a hell of a player at both ends of the floor,”

 ”I don’t know what we would do without him. He’s a great leader. He puts the team on his back every night.”

LeBron’s visit to Cleveland

LeBron James returned to Cleveland on Saturday night to witness his buddy, Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ jersey retirement. Funny enough, James spent his time at the ceremony alongside the man who had spent the past three and a half years mending the mess left by LeBron’s fateful ‘decision’ back in the summer of 2010.

Beacon Journal Sportswriter, Jason Lloyd did a great job of summing up proceedings in Cleveland:

“James spent the ceremony sitting on the Cavs’ bench next to the general manager who was fired a month ago, while the Cavs players sat along the baseline after leaving the locker room and watched. You can’t make this stuff up.

Grant and James laughed and chatted throughout the speeches, snapping pictures of Ilgauskas and his plaque, then took more pictures as his honorary jersey was raised for the first time.

As Ilgauskas left the floor, he thumped James on the chest, then his wife, Jennifer, hugged James on her way out.”

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Phil Jackson update

Sheridan Hoops’ own, Charley Rosen wrote a terrific piece today outlining that Phil Jackson’s coaching days still seem to be over but a front office job isn’t out of the question. With the Knicks? Sure! However, Rosen also listed some other alternatives that Jackson may be able to consider:
“What other possibilities might be offered to Jackson?

Atlanta? Sacramento? Working for MJ in Charlotte? The underachieving Grizzlies? Too bad Jackson once called Orlando “a plastic city.”

An interesting possibility might be the Clippers, especially if this overly hyped ball club flops early in the playoffs. Just imagine how many blue-chip free agents would love (Love?) to play in L.A. under the direction of the Zen Master”

For more discussion and to find out the pros and cons of Phil Jackson working in New York be sure to listen to Chris Sheridan’s  latest podcast.

 

Jodie Meeks lights up the Staples Center

Jodie Meeks has always been known as a marksman across the NBA and today the Oklahoma City Thunder found out first hand exactly how good a shooter Meeks can be.

Jodie Meeks, Kevin DurantDespite a 27 point, 12 assist, 10 rebound ‘triple double’ from Thunder star Kevin Durant, the Lakers got the victory at home 114-110. Thanks largely to the 42 points delivered from Jodie Meeks. Meeks hit 6 three pointers, went 11-18 from the floor and connected on everyone of his 14 free throws.

In this, his 6th year in the league (2nd with the Lakers) Meeks is averaging career highs in points, field goal percentage, assists, rebounds and steals. There is without a doubt an element of good stats on a bad team but with that being said, Meeks is surely playing his way into a bigger contract next season.

 

Injuries and heat-checks in Brooklyn

Recently acquired Nets guard Marcus Thornton has again transformed into his alter ego, The “Bayou Bomber’! This time it was against his former team Sacramento, Sunday night in Brooklyn.

The Nets looked in control from the outset despite a 28 point, 20 rebound performance from Kings big man, DeMarcus Cousins. But it was the cameo from Thornton that has got people in Brooklyn talking, and would have no doubt drawn a wry smile from Brooklyn GM Billy King.

Thornton scored an impressive 27 points in 28 minutes of play. Shooting 5-8 from distance and 11-15 from the floor. Since being traded to the Nets, Thornton has looked invigorated and appears to be appreciating playing alongside the Nets host of veterans. He now has a clearly defined role in Brooklyn and if he keeps shooting like that, Kidd will undoubtedly keep his green light on.

Point guard, Deron Williams praised Thornton’s ‘heat check’ style of play post game.

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“There’s not many guys that can do what he does. … He comes in, he hits one, it’s like NBA Jam. He’s on fire.”

It wasn’t all positive news coming out of Brooklyn’s camp however, Nets forward Paul Pierce was forced to leave the game due to a sore right shoulder. He did not return.

Pierce has been dealing with a ‘stinger’ in his right shoulder. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York revealed details of Pierce’s struggles.

“It’s been a problem for me throughout the last few years,” Pierce said Friday night. “It’s weak right now, so whenever I get hit in that shoulder … just with the constant years of banging, especially now that I’m playing the 4. So it’s a quick stinger.”

Later in the contest, the Nets also lost forward Andrei Kirilenko to a sprained right ankle. Both players will join veteran Kevin Garnett on the day-to-day injury list. Which for these old Nets, often means week-to-week.

Jake Henson is an Australian born, NBA writer who recentley joined the team at Sheridan Hoops. You can follow him on twitter here: @jwhenson_.