REGULAR SEASON RECORDS
Brooklyn Nets: 44-38 (6 seed)
Toronto Raptors: 48-34 (3 seed)
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)
Brooklyn Nets: Offense 104.4 (14th in the NBA), Defense 104.9 (19th in the NBA)
Toronto Raptors: Offense 105.8 (9th in the NBA), Defense 102.4 (9th in the NBA)
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES
1. The Deron Williams – Kyle Lowry matchup: Kyle Lowry has been a key contributor in the Raptors’ return to the postseason for the first time since 2008, and he may be the best individual player in the series. Deron Williams, meanwhile, has had an inconsistent season in part due to injuries, and in part due to not being needed to carry the load nightly on a veteran Nets team. Williams will need to help slow Lowry defensively and keep pace in running his team from a numbers standpoint. At the very least, Brooklyn’s team defense needs to contain Lowry and prevent him from taking over at times the way he’s proven capable of doing throughout the regular season.
2. Experience vs. Exuberance: The Nets have a veteran roster built for the postseason, with players like Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who have been there many times before. Toronto, meanwhile, has three starters who have never tasted the postseason. Jason Kidd has been there as a player, but has never had to make the adjustments necessary that a seven-game series requires from a head coach, while Dwane Casey has postseason experience coaching as an assistant, most recently on the 2011 Mavericks squad that won the title.
3. The best of the best: This may be one of the more competitive first round matchups, regardless of conference. The Raptors have the best record in the East since trading Rudy Gay in December, while the Nets have the best record in the conference since Jan. 1. The teams split the regular season series at two games apiece. This is a matchup between two teams who got used to winning essentially the entire second half of the season, and neither one is going to be an easy out.
The postseason is where the Nets having that huge payroll will pay dividends. They have three guys that can take the game over offensively on any given night in Johnson, Williams and Pierce, and developed role players throughout the season that can provide what’s needed on both ends of the floor to simply get the job done. It won’t be easy, but this series will prepare Brooklyn for the challenge that awaits in the later rounds, and the Nets’ experience will end up being the difference.
Nets in 6.