On paper, the Nets and their patchwork roster that has been transformed by injury and illness should be no match for the defending NBA champion Raptors in their first-round playoff series beginning Monday afternoon at Disney World in Orlando. But Toronto coach Nick Nurse and his players are taking nothing for granted against a Nets team that has played surprisingly well during the NBA restart.
“First of all, they’ve played just outstanding against some of the best teams in the NBA,” Nurse said following practice on Sunday. “They have a 5-3 record that could have easily been even better. Coach [Jacque] Vaughn has done a great job, their players are playing with a ton of energy and a ton of confidence. They’re cutting and moving hard, they’re shooting the ball, they’re playing fast-paced, they’re guarding. He’s got everybody that hits the floor playing at or above their potential.”
The Raptors are one of the best defensive teams in the league and are expert at switching coverages. No doubt, they must focus on stopping point guard Caris LeVert, who has been the Nets’ go-to guy and is averaging 26.1 points and 6.4 assists over his past 11 games going back to March.
“He’s been great,” Nurse said of LeVert. “He really can score the ball. His tempo and his patience have been amazing, his composure. He’ll play the screen-and-roll just right, wait, hesitate, find his little opening and rise up and score it. If people converge, he’ll make the nice wraparound pass to the big, mostly to [Jarrett] Allen, who does a great job of screening and rolling . . . Even when he’s guarded tightly, he can still score them.”
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry will have much of the responsibility for guarding LeVert. “Caris always had the confidence in being a good scorer,” Lowry said. “I think as time has gone on and he’s gotten comfortable with being that [go-to] guy. When he gets hot and he gets going, he has a little bit of a herky-jerky game, but he knows his spots, and he picks them out very well.”
At the same time, Lowry said the Raptors have more to worry about than LeVert. “They still have Joe Harris, who is shooting at a 50 percent clip from three, Allen, who is a big shot-blocker, diver, dunker, and you’ve got Garrett Temple, who has been in this league a long time and is a knockdown shooter,” Lowry said. “Those guys are scrappy as hell, and they’re going to fight their butts off.”