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.

Tweet of the Day: Kobe Bryant Among Many NBA Players Reflecting On Season’s End

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Wednesday is the final night in the NBA regular season.

It brings with it a lot of fun and excitement, as all 30 teams are in action. It also features quite of a few games of great import, seeing as there are more than a few teams jockeying for position in the playoffs.

More than anything, for a lot of NBA athletes, it brings a moment of reflection:  An entire year of hard work is coming to a close. For some, the reflection is less inviting:  An entire season has seemingly gone to waste.

Don’t believe me on the latter? Check out Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant’s response to this season.

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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.

Sprung: Jeremy Lin won’t cut it for Rockets with Patrick Beverley out

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JeremyLinSH1Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons are the big-name players, but the Houston Rockets would not be a top-four team in the Western Conference without Patrick Beverley.

Houston is 36-16 when Patrick Beverley starts, but they will miss him for at least two weeks (and likely for the duration of the regular season) with a torn meniscus. His replacement is one Jeremy Lin.

You remember him, right?

Even if Beverley doesn’t have the best offensive and defensive numbers, it doesn’t seem likely that Lin has the skill set to adequately replace what Beverley does for this team.

“Obviously we’re going to miss Pat’s defensive intensity and passion and the energy he brings every single possession,” Parsons told SheridanHoops.

SH Blog: Kobe Bryant calls out Lakers’ leadership, former D-League player says MJ is overrated

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kobeKobe Bryant has been sidelined for much of this season due to a couple of devastating injuries, and the Los Angeles Lakers have toiled in the bottom of the conference as a result. Of course, that’s not to say that all would have been well and the Lakers would have been a playoff team if Bryant played, but their record would certainly be better than 22-42 – 1/2 game better than the Utah Jazz who have been in tank mode since the season began.

Despite his absence from the court, however, he has paid attention to everything that has gone on, from how bad the Lakers have been, watching the front office trade away one of his favorite players, and now seeing Phil Jackson joining the New York Knicks. Needless to say, Bryant is less than pleased with it all, from Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times:

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