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.

Rookie Rankings, Week 22: Not the Worst Draft Ever. Not Yet, Anyway

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Anthony BennettThere’s been some talk lately that the 2013 draft could be the worst in NBA history.

We could wait more than a year before jumping into the adjoining worlds of shortsightedness and hyperbole, couldn’t we?

Yes, this was a bad draft. We’ve said it ourselves several times. For the first time since 2001, the top pick is going to average less than five points per game. For the first time since 1988, the Rookie of the Year is probably going to be a double-digit selection.

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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.