Breaking down the Nets-Raptors NBA Eastern Conference first-round series matchups
It's the classic series of a team boasting experience versus a rising team with youthful exuberance. The Nets were constructed with the postseason in mind. The Toronto Raptors are making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and surprised more than a few people by staying atop the Atlantic Division all season and posting the best record (41-22) in the Eastern Conference following their seven-player trade sending Rudy Gay to Sacramento on Dec. 9.
A breakdown of the intriguing matchup between the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds in their Eastern Conference first-round series:
Backcourt: It's not as if the Nets don't know all about the Raptors' talented tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They were toasted by the pair repeatedly to the tune of 22 points apiece per game in four regular-season games, succumbing to one of the league's highest-scoring guard duos. Shaun Livingston's ability to take some of the load of Deron Williams' shoulders since entering the starting lineup months ago has been a plus, and Williams admitted Friday that he's definitely motivated to have a good postseason after averaging 14.3 and 6.1 assists -- the lowest numbers since his rookie campaign in 2005-06. Joe Johnson quietly had another productive season and is the master with the game on the line. Trade deadline pickup Marcus Thornton can fill it up at a moment's notice. Edge: Raptors
Frontcourt: Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are a pair of beasts inside. Johnson is averaged 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds and Terrence Ross shot a blistering 39.5 percent from three-point range, second among the team's regulars behind fellow forward Patrick Patterson, who nailed 41.1 percent of his looks. Paul Pierce has been masterful since his insertion into the power forward spot Jan. 2 and Kevin Garnett looks like he's in form after missing 19 games with back spasms. Andrei Kirilenko's defensive versatility could be a big help, Mason Plumlee might've had the most meaningful production of any rookie in his class and Andray Blatche can be a handful on offense if he's on. Garnett and Pierce may be able to use their veteran know-how to outfox the Raptors and perhaps their playoff knowledge will cancel out some of the height/weight discrepancies. Edge: Nets
Coaching: Dwane Casey, 57, is surely a coach of the year candidate and the Raptors seem to enjoy his straightforward, honest approach. He has a championship pedigree, having coached on the staff that guided the Mavericks -- Jason Kidd included -- to the 2011 championship. He's coached in the NBA Finals twice and has been an associate head coach in 18 of the past 19 years. Now, that's longevity. Kidd has done an excellent job of keeping his team from imploding following that 10-21 start, tweaking the lineup by inserting Livingston to alleviate some of Williams' duties and placing Pierce at power forward. He collected a pair of the league's coach of the month awards, showing he's quickly made the transformation from player to the other end of the bench. Edge: Raptors
Prediction: Nothing's been easy for the Nets all season, so why should this be any different? They'll somehow find a way to win in seven.