The other night, the Toronto Raptors lost a tough game on the road to division rival Brooklyn Nets 101-97. The Barclays Center was electric as the teams battled back in forth in a playoff-like atmosphere. This season, the Raptors have proved their legitimacy as a team, and other squads have started taking them seriously. As the Nets have been defeated by the Raptors on a couple occasions, they’ve come to notice that the Raptors also pose a legitimate threat to any success that Jason Kidd and company may hope to accomplish with a berth to the playoffs. If the post-season were to begin today, the Raptors and Nets would square off in a best-of-seven series in the first round. Having split the season series with a win on March 10th, the Nets now sit only 3 games behind the Raptors in the Atlantic Division standings.
The Toronto Raptors making the playoffs would be great for the city and all this year, but it would be a bittersweet accomplishment if they somehow found a way to give up their division lead to the Nets. It was evident that the Barclays Center was huge in fueling Brooklyn’s effort. While it provided the Raptors with an environment that they needed to experience, fate wasn’t on their side. Toronto let this game slip and gave confidence to a surging Nets squad seeking revenge from a heartbreaking loss in the previous matchup between these divisional foes.
Hopefully, this game was a learning experience for everyone involved. The Raps made some questionable decisions down the stretch, but that’s why you play the game— you learn from the mistakes you make. Dwane Casey and his rotations, Terrence Ross with a costly turnover, Kyle Lowry took a questionable jumper over Andray Blatche, and All-Star DeMar DeRozan failed to make an impact. The Raptors were lacking the services of forward Patrick Patterson, but Brooklyn was still without Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, so both teams were missing key players. The Brooklyn Nets have a number of seasoned All-Stars who are playoff proven; a win like the one the Nets had against Toronto is the type of momentum-boost a team like Brooklyn needs to switch things into full gear.
With a victory in Monday night’s game, the Raptors could have essentially put the stamp on the surging Nets heading into the final stretch of the season. The most recent Raptors loss should serve as a wake-up call if anything to a Toronto team that needs no reminders as to what they’re trying to accomplish. An Atlantic Division title is something to put your name beside, and a symbol that recognizes success as an NBA team. These final twenty games for Toronto are going to be crucial for solidifying their playoff position. Let’s not forget that the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards are still very much in the mix in the overall scope of the Eastern Conference.
Inside sources say that the Nets run can be attributed to Jason Kidd losing the tie, but my hunch is that it’s because their a talented team who’s finally getting healthy (with the exception of Brook Lopez). Since the new year, the Nets have turned things around winning 22 of their last 31 games. In their remaining 20 games, the Nets will play an opponent with a record of .500 or below 14 times, putting them in a prime position to make a run as their team continues to get into a rhythm.
As a Raptors fan, this season has been almost too easy to watch, but the NBA never fails and the drama always seems to pick up at the right time. With three quarters of the season already gone, the Toronto Raptors head into unfamiliar territory. With X-factor Patrick Patterson out for the week, the Raptors will be strapped for frontcourt production in what could be one of the most important 3-game stretches of the year. Three games separate the third seed and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. This week the Raptors play the Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns; who are all formidable opponents. It’s important that Toronto stays focused on winning the Atlantic Division and cementing home-court for at least the first round because I’d really, really hate to lose to the Nets… again.