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.

Chris Bernucca’s Postseason Award Choices

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Image.AdamSilverTransparency is a two-way street.

For years, NBA media members – echoing the sentiments of its passionate fan base – wanted more transparency from Commissioner David Stern and his executive staff. Whether it was a lottery drawing, a suspension in the playoffs or a referee scandal, folks felt like they were entitled to an explanation. And they were.

Stern grudgingly came around. He arranged for the media to meet with referees prior to the season about rules changes. He allowed the media into the lottery drawing. He okayed press releases that admitted, Yes, we blew that call.

Since replacing Stern as commissioner less than three months ago, Adam Silver has taken the NBA’s transparency up a notch. He declared that there will be an open dialogue about officiating and is walking the walk by making internal memos available to the media.

But Silver is getting something back, too. At All-Star Weekend this year, the media presented the notion of transparency with regard to how its members vote on postseason awards, and the commissioner bought in. 

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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.

Rookie Rankings, Week 23: MCW is the ROY

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Philadelphia 76ers SixersFrom his first NBA game, Michael Carter-Williams took hold of the Rookie of the Year award.

He immediately grabbed the undivided attention of all of us, going for 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds in Philadelphia’s improbable season-opening win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Before the 76ers started losing – losing frequently, losing historically – Carter-Williams directed his team to two more wins and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Not Rookie of the Week. Player of the Week. In his first week in the NBA.

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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.