Playoff predictions: Raptors v. Nets

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that the national media will finally pay attention to the Raptors. The bad news is it's gonna happen two weeks from now, when they play LeBron James.

3) Toronto Raptors vs. 6) Brooklyn Nets (2-2)

Kevin Garnett's season-high was 16 points.

It came on November 18, 2013, in a loss at Portland, in which he shot 8-of-19. He missed 19 games in March and April. Brooklyn went 16-3 in that stretch. KG returned for five games late in the year, never cracking even 20 minutes in any of them. The Nets went 2-3 in those games. They beat Miami in the one game in that stretch he was rested.

I think what I'm trying to say is that the "Big AARP Ticket" has done more harm than good for the Nets, even in a season in which they lost Brook Lopez early in the year with a broken foot. His offensive rating is worse than Jason Collins'.

Seriously, read that last sentence again.

Garnett has been a negative player for them overall, and while he's still technically their best big defender, he's such an offensive liability at this point that he does more harm than good, even in the 20 minutes he's barely able to jog on the court.

Nets coach Jason Kidd, who was much-maligned early on for various legitimate reasons both on and off the court, has stumbled into a successful rotation, relying heavily on guys like Mirza Teletovic, Miles Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche, and, of course, Shaun Livingston, who might be the team's MVP. All of these guys were expected to be fringe contributors at best. Instead, they've been integral cogs. Established vets Jason Terry and Reggie Evans, who were expected to contribute to the bench, were shipped out for Marcus Thornton, who's also helped, while oft-injured Andrei Kirilenko has played even fewer minutes than Garnett.

The Nets rely on this odd small-ball lineup, with Paul Pierce as their stretch four, Joe Johnson at the three and Livingston starting alongside the comatose Deron Williams, with rookie Plumlee starting when Garnett can't. Somehow, it works for them. They're 4-0 against Miami, all close wins. The speculation has been rampant that they tanked to the sixth seed to get into Miami's half of the bracket to draw them in the second round (and also to avoid the physical Bulls in the first). Clearly this is a team that has no fear of the Heat.

Unfortunately, I don't think they're going to get the chance to beat them when it matters. The Raptors are almost comically underappreciated due to their lack of big-name stars and more so their geography. They're the better team, though, and the one with home court advantage. They've also probably noticed that the Nets dropped down to draw them.

The Raptors rank ninth offensively while the Nets rank 14th. They rank tenth defensively while the Nets rank 19th. What am I missing?

Toronto has used the same starting lineup for 56 games since trading Rudy Gay and inserting Terrence Ross in his spot. They've enjoyed tremendous health, with all five guys playing at least 77 games. Coach Dwane Casey's rotations have long been established and the team has settled into its roles. The Nets do have the bench edge, but the Raptors have three legit contributors in Tyler Hansbrough, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson.

It's a tight series, but I'm picking the Raptors for a few reasons. They've been the better team over the course of the season, particularly after they traded Rudy Gay (Their GM Masai Ujiri deserves serious consideration for Executive of the Year for this alone. Remember, he also managed to dump Andrea Bargnani on the hapless Knicks). They've got the best player in the series in Kyle Lowry and it's not particularly close. DeMar DeRozan might very well be the second-best guy in the series. I don't think Pierce can handle Amir Johnson down low, so Brooklyn will have to get out of their small-ball comfort zone. Whoever they use at center will have their hands full with Jonas Valanciunas.

They have home court advantage.

But mainly I'm picking the Raptors because the Nets have Kevin Garnett and Kevin Garnett sucks.

Fun Fact: Nando De Colo has been even worse for the Raptors than he was for the Spurs, averaging fewer points per 36 minutes and shooting 36.7 percent. His turnover percentage has increased, though to be fair his assist rate has skyrocketed as well. His PER has gone down and his defensive rating is worse than anyone in their rotation. I don't think Mr. De Colo is long for the NBA.

Prediction: Raptors in seven.

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