Thursday, April 17, 2014
Starting Five: Will Nets survive Raptors?
By Scott Sargent | Speical to ESPNNewYork.com
CLEVELAND -- Their playoff ticket has been punched, but which team will show up on Saturday when the Toronto Raptors play host to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs?
The Nets may be limping into the postseason, having lost four of their final five games, but the entire locker room is a firm believer in hitting the reset button.
“I like right where we are,” said Nets coach Jason Kidd. “We are in a good place and playing some pretty good basketball as of late. We’ve rested and guys have gotten their work in at the same time of getting some of the injuries they’ve had -- some of the nicks and bruises -- healed. Now it’s time to figure out how to get a win on the road.”
Kidd, a rookie head coach armed with a $190 million roster, experienced a roller coaster of a season, seemingly hitting rock bottom around the New Year -- a five-game losing streak in November was met with a four-game losing streak in December -- only to propel itself into the sixth seed as a result of its turnaround in 2014.
But over the season’s final two weeks, the team has struggled to tally additional victories, losing twice to the neighboring New York Knicks, once to the Orlando Magic and once to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Injuries plagued the Nets throughout the duration of the season. Kidd lost key players (including point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez, the latter suffering a season-ending ankle injury in March) for stretches of time. And while the team played well within the confines of the Barclays Center, winning 16 of their final 18 games, it has been the road that has given them fits.
“All four games that we played [against Toronto] were pretty tough games for us," said forward Andrei Kirilenko. “Nobody expected them to play so well this season, but they traded Rudy Gay and started to play better. I think it’s going to be a tough matchup, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat everybody.”
Coming in with the potential of being the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the losing streak ultimately relegated the Nets to the sixth seed. Toronto, winners of the Atlantic Conference and owners of the third seed, will have home-court advantage during the first-round matchup. For the series, the Nets and Raptors split, each team winning twice -- once on the road and once at home.
“It’s like a new season starts right now,” Kirilenko said. “Right now, every game counts. Every possession set you play on the floor is important. Right now, it’s going to be very important to stay concentrated and keep our heads in the game.”
“It’s the playoffs,” Kidd echoed. “You come, it’s a new season, both teams are 0-0 and it’s the first one to four [wins].”
Question: What do you think of the Brooklyn’s chances against Toronto? Let us know in the comments section below.
In case you missed it: The playoffs are here, and the pressure is on.
Stat to know: The Raptors’ entire roster has 156 games of playoff experience. By comparison, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have played in 267 playoff games combined.
Up next: The Nets are off Thursday before returning to practice on Friday.