Raptors-Nets 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.

Tweet Of The Day: Lack Of Playoff Experience Not A Concern For Toronto

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Amir JohnsonWith less than two days to go before the start of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, it’s an exciting time to anticipate all of the action set to take place. As one of the more surprising teams this season, the Toronto Raptors are gearing up to kick off the post-season with their scheduled match up against the Brooklyn Nets.

Despite clinching the Atlantic division and earning the three seed for the Eastern Conference, there are still doubts surrounding the inexperienced Raptors. This will be the first time in the playoffs for many of the players on this roster, but they’re not letting that serve as a point against them.

One of the more notable reactions being made come from Raptors Forward Amir Johnson. Taking to twitter to voice his thoughts, he asserted the confidence that he has in his team.

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.

Raptors soaring and succeeding since Rudy Gay trade

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DeMarDeRozanSH1The Toronto Raptors had no intention of making the playoffs this season.

Head coach Dwane Casey admitted as much earlier in the season, but the talent on the team turned out to be above average in an Eastern Conference that turned out to be historically subpar. So general manager Masai Ujiri sent the overpaid Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 8 with the team in first place at 7-12, and the Raptors have turned into one of the East’s best teams.

Toronto is 29-15 since the seven-player Gay trade was announced, a move that allowed their other core players to expand their roles and help the Raptors become an unexpected lock for the Eastern Conference playoffs at this point in early March.

Point guard Kyle Lowry was mired in trade rumors but emerged as an All-Star snub and an overwhelmingly positive force, and with room to operate on the wing, he is the unquestioned primary scorer, DeMar DeRozan flourished and became an All-Star for the first time.

SH Blog: Knicks hoping for Love, Rondo; Aldridge plans to shoot more threes

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JohnWallAll-Star Saturday is one of my favorite days of the NBA season, because it’s the best chance we get to see players just having fun. More than just about any other sports league on the planet, the NBA likes to show off its players’ charisma, flair, and general ability to entertain. And it’s working. Just ask every company that uses an NBA player in their advertising. Any of the twenty or so of them.

I rounded up some NBA players’ reactions to the dunk contest, so click through for that. Personally, I thought the freestyle round was a cool addition, and the East team had some really slick teamwork. The battle format was a little iffy, though, and only getting to see one dunk from each competitor was a bit of a letdown. Ben McLemore’s rumored 720 never materialized, though his dunk was pretty easily the runner-up to John Wall’s runaway winner. He also had my favorite individual dunk of the freestyle round and showcased his ridiculous hops. On the whole, the dunkers (especially the East, who clearly had a game plan, whereas the West seemed a little starstruck) brought it, but the format held them back.

The other great thing about All-Star Saturday is that everyone’s in one place, and that means one-of-a-kind trade rumor coverage. It’s like baseball’s winter meetings, only with dunks also. It’s a pretty great time for the basketball blogger.

Now let’s get to the news: