- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Brooklyn Nets rebounded from a 10-21 start to finish 44-38 and secure the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
They closed out the regular season with a 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
What it means: The most expensive team in NBA history will begin the playoffs on the road against the third-seeded, Atlantic Division-champion Toronto Raptors. Game 1 is Saturday at Air Canada Centre.
The skinny: The Nets and Raptors split their season series 2-2. Three of the four games were decided by four points or less. Brooklyn lost four of its final five games -- all to sub-.500 opponents. There is talk that the Nets were "tanking" to avoid a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls, who eliminated them last season. Regardless, Toronto isn’t going to be a walk in the park by any means. By the way, if the Nets do advance, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat probably loom in Round 2. Brooklyn went 4-0 against Miami in the regular season. That would be fun.
Nets-Raptors Playoff Dates
Oh, Canada: The Raptors were 7-12 when they traded Rudy Gay. It was addition by subtraction. Remember when they were contemplating dealing Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks or Nets? Well, Lowry is their best player, a quick point guard who commands the attention of the entire defense. Toronto ranks in the top 10 in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Raptors are also an excellent 3-point-shooting team. The Nets are not good at defending the 3. Toronto’s bigs, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, are underrated. The Raptors don’t turn the ball over much, but they did against Brooklyn. And you can’t forget about All-Star DeMar DeRozan or high-flyer Terrence Ross.
Biggest advantage? Experience. Toronto’s entire roster has just 156 games of playoff experience. By comparison, Paul Pierce has appeared in 136 postseason games, Kevin Garnett 131. Of course, this is Nets coach Jason Kidd’s first playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how Kidd fares.
The key? The Nets must continue to be themselves. They turned their season around by playing small ball: exploiting mismatches and hitting 3-pointers on offense and switching and creating turnovers on defense. Deron Williams versus Lowry is the big matchup. Maybe Brooklyn doesn’t have to rely on Williams as much as it did last season, but he still needs to produce. Also, the Nets have to take care of business at Barclays Center, where they went 22-4 from Jan. 1 on.
Up next: Game 1 on Saturday at Air Canada Centre.
7dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo