The opening encounter of the 2014 NBA playoffs will be between the Brooklyn Nets, a team that keeps telling us they’ve been built to succeed in the playoffs, and the Toronto Raptors, who very few actually expected to see make it into the postseason, let alone host game 1 of the first round series.
Most statistical categories are very similar between the two teams: Similar pace, similar shooting accuracy. The difference comes in the rebounding. Brooklyn are 29th in the NBA in rebounding rate, grabbing only 47.5% of the available boards. The Raptors, with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, not to forget about a bench that doesn’t always get plenty of credit, grab 50.3% of them, and have a huge advantage when it comes to offensive boards.
The Nets are hoping to counter that with experience. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry are NBA champions. Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko have been together to the Western conference finals. The Raptors have three starters who have never tasted a playoff game. The Nets seemed confident enough to tank on the final games of the season to set themselves up with a game against the Raptors, who they perceive as the weakest of the home court advantage foursome.
But the Raptors have athleticism and speed. Both teams played in a similar pace during the regular season, but it’s quite clear that if this becomes a track meet with fast breaks to both ends, the Nets don’t have the ability to keep up. It means Kyle Lowry, DeRozan and Ross will have to push the ball forward relentlessly, and try to make this series about Garnett, Pierce and Johnson not being able to stand on their feet in the final quarter.
This makes it a point guard duel. Deron Williams, like the rest of the starters on his team, hasn’t been very consistent this season. However, there’s a 7% differential between his shooting in wins and losses. A good game from him means everything becomes easier for the Nets, who don’t have another actual point guard to run the show – Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson just don’t bring the same things to the table. Kyle Lowry has been better than Williams for most of this season, but he’s under a different kind of circumstance now, and needs to adjust.
Predictions – The Nets go in quite rested to the first game of the series, and in their on and off seesaw of a season, it might mean they’ll be in top notch form for the first game, and possibly causing the first upset of the postseason.