Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets NBA Playoffs Preview

Raptors Nets NBA Playoffs

Last Word on Pro Basketball is giving you an NBA Playoffs Preview for each series as it begins inside the bubble.

After an impressive 7-1 bubble record, the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors will take on the new-look Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. This series kicks off on Monday, August 17 at 4pm ET.  

Toronto earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for the second-consecutive year after a 53-19 campaign. Despite entering the bubble with the league’s most-depleted roster, Brooklyn went 5-3 to finish the season at 35-37 and earned the seventh seed in the East. 

Can Brooklyn’s replacement cast give the defending champions a competitive series? Does Toronto have the weapons to repeat without Kawhi Leonard this season? 

NBA Playoffs Preview: Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets 

Frontcourt 

This NBA Playoffs preview starts with the frontcourt. One of Brooklyn’s biggest questions entering the bubble was their lack of size. The Nets lost center DeAndre Jordan and valuable size in Taurean Prince as both opted out of the bubble. This left one true center on the starting five in Jarrett Allen

Although Allen retained his solid play inside, averaging 15.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in the bubble, questions remained. The Nets ranked in the bottom half of bubble teams in team defensive rebounds (34.3 per game) and opponent second-chance points (13.8 per game). 

On the flip side, the Raptors ranked top-three in both categories, a testament to their interior strength. Toronto is led by power forward Pascal Siakam, a budding star, and veteran center Marc Gasol. Siakam led the Raptors in scoring this season with 22.9 points per game, while Gasol paired with backup center Serge Ibaka to defend the paint. This duo averaged 14.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game throughout the regular season. 

Siakam and Gasol provide Toronto with a versatile frontcourt. Throughout his career, Gasol never shies away from stepping out and knocking down three-pointers. Siakam is a slimmer but lengthy forward, with the ability to handle the basketball and run the court. 

One bright spot for Brooklyn’s replacement frontcourt has been Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. In the bubble, Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 14.8 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting from the field. 

The frontcourt matchup comes down to experience and depth. Toronto holds an edge in both and should be able to slow down Allen and Luwawu-Cabarrot with their rotation of Siakam, Gasol and Ibaka. 

Advantage: Raptors 

Backcourt

Despite the absence of their two leading scorers, Kyrie Irving (27.4 points per game) and Spencer Dinwiddie (20.6 points per game), Brooklyn proved their ability to score in the bubble. The Nets averaged 119.9 points per game in the bubble, sixth-best among the 22 teams. 

This scoring output can be credited to standout performances from their starting guards in Caris LeVert and Joe Harris. LeVert averaged 25.0 points per game in the bubble on 48 percent from the field. As a result, he was named to the All-Bubble NBA Second Team. Harris averaged 22.0 points per night including an outstanding 62 percent from the field and 54.1 percent from deep. 

Toronto’s backcourt will have their hands full with Brooklyn’s scoring output from Harris and LeVert. Enter Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. This duo possesses championship pedigree and both averaged at least 16.7 points and 5.7 assists per game in the bubble. 

A huge question mark in this matchup is Toronto’s ability to defend Harris and LeVert. The Raptors will likely utilize their defensive versatility with forwards OG Anunoby and Siakam to accomplish this. 

Toronto will also need to take care of the basketball. In the bubble, the Raptors lead the league in team turnovers at 18.7 per game. Despite Toronto’s veteran presence in the backcourt, right now, Brooklyn holds the momentum and advantage in backcourt play. 

Advantage: Nets

Bench

With a near-complete overhaul of their roster, one may assume in this NBA Playoffs preview that Brooklyn’s bench as a weak spot. This has not been the case since the restart. In the bubble, Brooklyn’s bench ranks first with 49.0 points per game. The bench also ranks second in assists with 11.1 per contest. 

Brooklyn’s interim head coach Jacque Vaughn used deep bench rotations throughout the bubble. The Nets played 13 players in at least five of their bubble games, each averaging at least 12.9 minutes per night. Luwawu-Cabarrot and Garrett Temple lead Brooklyn’s bench in bubble scoring, with 14.8 and 11.0 points per game, respectively. 

The bench breakdown is another matchup of Brooklyn’s offensive strength to Toronto’s strength defensively. The Raptor’s bench ranks third amongst bubble teams in total rebounds, averaging 20.8 per night. 

Off the bench, Ibaka leads the team in rebounds at 7.6 per night. Chris Boucher, Norman Powell, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson add valuable depth off the bench. In bubble games, Boucher averages five rebounds per night. Powell leads the bench in scoring at 13.6 points per night, and Hollis-Jefferson shoots 47.1 percent from the field. 

Despite the brilliance of Brooklyn’s bench in the bubble, Toronto holds the advantage with long-lasting depth that possesses championship pedigree. The Raptors returned three major bench pieces from last year’s championship run in Ibaka, Powell, and Boucher. 

Advantage: Raptors 

Intangibles

In terms of intangibles, Toronto holds the biggest advantage in the league: a championship pedigree. The Raptors return to the postseason as defending champs, a valuable asset in playoff basketball. Additionally, Toronto employs one of the best showcases of team basketball. The Raptors are unselfish, willing-to-pass, and never rely on starpower in clutch moments. Rather, this roster trusts spots 1-15 to make an impact late in games. 

On the other hand, Brooklyn has learned this next-man-up mentality in the bubble. With their new-look roster, Brooklyn has relied on bench play to provide a huge outburst of scoring. LeVert is also on a tear and streaky-individual play goes a long way in the postseason. 

Regardless, championship pedigree wins this matchup. 

Advantage: Raptors 

Coaching

The Nets announced Vaughn as interim head coach just two games prior to the season hiatus. Before the restart, Vaughn went 2-0 and subsequently 5-3 in the bubble. In his 10 games with the Nets, Vaughn is 7-3. Impressive given his ability to rally a replacement squad to a 5-3 bubble record. Regardless, Vaughn is inexperienced coaching in postseason play. 

Toronto head coach Nick Nurse has just two years of head coaching experience with the Raptors, but an impressive resume. He led the Raptors to their first-ever championship in franchise history. Questions remained after last season with the departure of Leonard. Nurse navigated these waters, leading Toronto to its second-straight 50-win season under his tutelage, repeating as the second seed in the East. 

Advantage: Raptors 

Final Prediction: Raptors in 5

The Brooklyn Nets have been a surprising bright spot in the NBA bubble. Overcoming a roster overhaul, head coach Vaughn led Brooklyn to a 5-3 record. LeVert has been brilliant since the restart, but inexperience and lack of true depth provide issues for this squad. 

Toronto, on the other hand, put a scare in the rest of the league with their 7-1 bubble record. If anything, the Raptors proved we should not sleep on the defending champions. Brooklyn will steal a game, but this series is all Raptors. 

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