The Toronto Raptors (14-23) hope to bounce back from Sunday’s comeback loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. They face-off against a resurged Brooklyn Nets (20-17) team led by all-star guard Deron Williams. The Nets also has a new coach at the helm with Avery Johnson being fired last month. Since P.J. Carlesimo took over at the end of December, the Nets look like a new team and have won eight of their last nine games.
The Cage’s 5 Keys to the Game:
1. Contain the Nets backcourt.
The Nets have two all-star calibre guards in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson that can both create for others and score at will. Look for Dwane Casey to possibly sub-in Kyle Lowry early to check Williams since Jose Calderon won’t be much of a match for him defensively. Johnson is a talented wing player that will give the Raptors’ players a lot of trouble. Slowing down both of them will be imperative.
2. Come out swinging.
The offense needs to come strong for the raptors and needs to last all game rather than sporadic quarters. The Raptors offence has slowed down in the month of January and is only averaging 89 points per game in the last six contests. This just won’t work against a good team like the Nets.
3. Kyle Lowry needs to get it going.
It is no mystery that Lowry has been struggling to start the new year. His minutes are down as are his shots and averages across the board. Has he lost confidence since losing his starting job? Whatever it is, the Raptors need him to aggressively lead the second unit and also play his usual tenacious defense.
4. Contain Brook Lopez.
Easily one of the best centers in the association, Brook Lopez will give the Raptors undersized bigmen a handful tonight. Lopez is averaging 18.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 2.1 BPG and looks like an all-star this year. Slowly him down will be tough for Amir Johnson and Ed Davis but will also be key to winning.
5. Raptors big men.
Amir Johnson and Ed Davis has been great for the Raptors, providing scoring and rebounding from both front court spots. With Lopez expected to come out strong, Johnson and Davis will have to match his scoring and rebounding if Raptors hope to have a chance.
X-Factor: The Cage’s X-Factor tonight will be Amir Johnson. Johnson has been great in the new year, averaging 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds in his last five contests. He has also shown toughness and grit, playing through injury while being outsized by the opposing teams’ bigmen. Look for him to continue his hot-streak tonight.
Image source: FRANK FRANKLIN II/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS