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.

Sheridan’s MVP Rankings, April 9 Edition: This Pick is Easy; Coach of Year is not

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magnifyingglassMy ballot will be e-mailed to NBA headquarters late at night one week from today, and I will then publish all of my picks for postseason awards — as is my standard practice.

But not every one of the 126 voters makes his/her selections public. At least that is the way it has been in the past.

But this year, transparency rules. The Pro Basketball Writers Association and the NBA media relations office have come to an agreement under which all of the voters’ picks in every single category will be made public. Too bad this didn’t happen a year ago, when we would have learned who had the gumption to vote for Jordan Crawford as Sixth Man of the Year. (The NBA even checked with the voter to see if he meant to select Jamal Crawford, and the voter responded ‘no.’ He actually felt the lesser Crawford was deserving).

Sheridan’s MVP Rankings, April 2 Edition: A Rivalry is Finally Born Tonight?

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sameoldLet’s see … the sky was gray this morning … again. The temperature was in the 30s … again. The forecast calls for more chilly weather … again. Kevin Durant is going to be No. 1 on this list … again.

What is going to make today different?

These are the things you ponder while getting the kids ready for school — plus the thought of what the heck was the local school board thinking when they decided that school would begin at 7:30 a.m? Don’t they know about West Coast games? Don’t they know about snooze buttons?

Well, the fact of the matter is that this could be a very, very different Wednesday. You know why?

Because the Knicks and the Nets have been playing together in the NBA since 1976, and despite their geographic proximity to one another, they have never had a strong rivalry over those 38 years because both teams were never good at the same time.

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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.

Sheridan’s MVP Rankings: March 26 Edition — LeBron Now Fourth

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Jackson-MettaNominations for the ultimate Theater of the Absurd are now closed. It doesn’t get any stranger than it did Tuesday night at Staples Center, so nobody should even try to top it, OK?

Phil Jackson’s new team allowed 51 points in the third quarter to his old team, with Jackson watching from a luxury suite where he was joined by another former Knick and Laker, Metta World Peace.

Meantime, down in the second row, Jeanie Buss took it all in with a wonderful, gorgeous smile on her face.

And the Oscar goes to …

Well, I guess it would be the Oscar for Best Documentary. Because this was all so real Tuesday night, so very, very real and so patently absurd it made you want to laugh. Or cry. (Yes, Knicks fans, your pain is understood). Fifty-one points allowed in the third quarter? Don’t you wish you were a fly on the wall in that luxury suite listening to the Zen Master and the Nut Job discussing this one?

Jackson: “Metta, how exactly did coach Woodson teach defense in practice?”

World Peace: “Teach? He didn’t teach anything other than “Get the ball to ‘Melo as much as possible.’”

Jackson: “No, seriously. What about in the team huddle. Didn’t he even tell guys to put their arms up when someone blows by Felton?”

World Peace: “I really didn’t listen to Woodson. He was a hater. That old team of mine might be the worst defensive team I’ve ever been a part of, so I just tuned him out. Why do you think they waived me, anyway, Phil? I’m capable of giving them the one thing they need, perimeter defense, and I couldn’t even get my warmups off.”

Jackson: “You going to play again this season?”

World Peace: “Yeah, at Rucker.”

Jackson: “Isn’t there a playoff team out there that needs a little of your juice?”

World Peace: “Hey Phil … The Knicks would be a playoff team if they had used me correctly. I’m all about summertime now. The summer started for me a month ago. Can I come over to your pad and sit out on the deck the next few nights as the sun sets into the ocean? Love that view from your deck, Phil.”

Jackson: “I’ll have to ask Jeanie. She’s really getting on my nerves with her texts. In her last one she asked me who I was going to draft this June.”

World Peace: “What’s so bad about that? Seems like a legit question.”

Jackson: “We have no draft picks, Metta. Our second-rounders for the next four drafts have all been traded away. The Nuggets own our first-round pick this year, and the Raptors fleeced my predecessors for our 2016 first-round pick last summer in the Bargnani trade.”

World Peace: “Who’s Bargnani?”

Jackson: “He was your teammate, Ron. You taking your medication?”

World Peace: “Oh, that Italian dude? Tall skinny guy? Damn! All along I though he was our defensive coach. Every single guy on the Knicks was told to do what he does on defense. Woodson was saying that way back in training camp.

Jackson: “Metta… don’t you think Woody was saying that in jest?”

World Peace: “What does ‘in jest’ mean?”

PhilandJeanieJackson: “OK, that explains a lot. If the rest of these Knicks know as much about vocabulary as you do, Metta, I’ve got this thing half figured out.”

World Peace: “Damn! This Robert Kelly is like the best passer I’ve ever seen. He’s kind of big for a point guard, no?”

Jackson: “He is not a point guard. And his name is Ryan. And he shouldn’t even be in the NBA.”

World Peace: “What did Jeanie just text you?”

Jackson: “She offered me Kelly for Felton and our 2018 first-round pick.”

World Peace: “You gotta do that, Phil! Kelly has eight assists, man. And Felton couldn’t even guard you with your artificial hips and knees.”

Jackson: “You talking to Jeanie behind my back? She just texted me the same thing.”

OK, enough of that. Gotta give y’all something entertaining since the MVP race is over. The only battle left is who will be No. 2. And maybe No. 3, because Joakim Noah is riding a wave right now. And if LeBron James loses in Indiana tonight …

So on to the rankings we go …

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