NBA Playoff Preview – Toronto vs. New Jersey
(Sports Network) – After ending a four-year postseason drought, the Toronto
Raptors are back in the playoffs and will take on the New Jersey Nets in the
first round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.
The Raptors captured their first division title in franchise history after
winning the Atlantic, and are in the postseason for the fourth time. Head
coach Sam Mitchell did a fantastic job during the regular season, guiding the
squad to a 47-35 record to match the best finish in team history.
Toronto went 47-35 during the 2000-01 campaign to set the standard. It
recorded just 27 wins last year.
Led by All-Star center/forward Chris Bosh, the Raptors were able to surprise
many teams around the league. Bosh led the team in scoring (22.6) and
rebounding (10.7), while helping Toronto clinch home-court advantage
throughout the opening round.
The acquisition of guard T.J. Ford via trade in the offseason with Milwaukee
panned out for the best. Ford finished second on the team in scoring with 14.0
points per game, while leading the roster in assists (7.9 apg).
The Raptors have played extremely well at home this season and registered a
30-11 record at the Air Canada Centre. The 30 home wins are a franchise
Meanwhile, the Nets ended the season with four straight wins and 10 over the
last 13 games. They are in the playoffs for a team-best sixth consecutive
season and needed a win over Chicago on Wednesday to secure the sixth seed in
the Eastern Conference. Otherwise they would have been seventh and preparing
for LeBron James and the Cavs.
New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank completed his third full season with the
club and is in the postseason again. Frank and the squad defeated Indiana in
six games in the last year’s opening round before bowing out in five games
against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference semifinals.
The Nets’ roster is basically the same with stars Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and
Richard Jefferson leading the way. When the dynamic trio is clicking on all
cylinders, it makes it almost impossible for the Nets to lose. They hope that
theory carries into the postseason, especially for Carter, who spent six-plus
years with the Raptors before being dealt to New Jersey in the 2004-05 season.
Carter has averaged 26.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists in five games
versus Toronto. In 403 games as a Raptor, Carter averaged 23.4 points, 5.2
rebounds and 3.9 assists from 1998 to 2004 before being traded to New Jersey
for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams and Eric Williams on December 17, 2004.
The 2006-07 season series between Toronto and New Jersey was split at two
games apiece. The Raptors and Nets have never met in the playoffs.
STARTING FRONTCOURT: Bosh is the leader of the Toronto frontcourt and will
give the opposition trouble down low. Bosh recorded 10 straight double-doubles
towards the end of the season and is Toronto’s all-time leader in that
category with 119. Last season, Bosh posted nine straight double-doubles to
set a then-franchise record. He will team up with center Rasho Nesterovic and
forward Luke Jackson. Rookie forward Andrea Bargnani will be available for the
playoff series. Bargnani missed a significant amount of time after undergoing
an immediate appendectomy. The rookie of the month for January and February is
sidelined indefinitely, and averaged 11.5 points and 3.9 rebounds this season.
If he is healthy and ready to play in this series, the Raptors will be tough
to beat. It’s a shame forward Jorge Garbajosa went down with a season-ending
leg injury. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds this season. New Jersey
has no pity on the wounded Raptors and will counter with forwards Jefferson
and Mikki Moore and center Jason Collins. Jefferson, who finished third on the
team in scoring with 16.3 ppg, underwent ankle surgery this season and missed
21 games. The team went 8-13 without him in the lineup. Jefferson is the only
player who matches up talent-wise with Toronto’s frontcourt. His determination
to get back at full strength is apparent, but he can’t do it alone. Moore
finished tops in the NBA for field goal percentage for the 2006-2007 season.
He shot .609 from the field, but it won’t help. Bosh will eat anyone inside
alive, thus giving Toronto the needed edge down low.
STARTING BACKCOURT: Along with Bosh, guard Ford helped transform the
Raptors from a laughing stock to an Eastern Conference power with his ability
to spread the ball around and play defense. Ford averaged 14.0 points and a
team-best 7.9 assists this season, and has the Toronto front office smiling
for its work on making the deal go through before the season started. Anthony
Parker, who averaged 12.3 points and 3.9 rebounds this season, is the other
starting guard. Parker averaged 19.6 points over final seven games of the
season and tied for fourth in the NBA with a .441 three-point shooting
percentage (115-of-261). After Detroit, the Nets have the best backcourt in
the East with Carter and Kidd. The two have the ability to post triple-doubles
on a daily basis. Carter led the team in scoring with 25.2 ppg and Kidd
finished tops in assists (9.2) and rebounds (8.2). Over the last 13 games of
the regular season, Carter averaged 27.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists,
while Kidd recorded 9.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists. Frank has the
advantage here. So Ford and Co. better watch closely and take notes for it
will be beneficial towards their career
BENCH: The Raptors won’t strike fear into any opponent with their bench, but
they do have the role players necessary to get the job done. Juan Dixon,
Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon and Joey Graham are expected to be the main
players behind the starting backcourt of Ford and Parker. Calderon averaged
8.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 77 games this season. The Raptors brass pulled
some strings at the trade deadline this season when they acquired guard Juan
Dixon from the Portland Trail Blazers. Dixon filled in nicely off the bench
during the regular season, averaging 11.1 points in 26 games with the Raptors.
Dixon knows what it takes to win a championship, having already captured a
NCAA title while a student at Maryland. It’s pretty much the same story for
the pine players from New Jersey with many young faces and one veteran baller.
Guard Marcus Williams, forward Bostjan Nachbar, swingman Antoine Wright,
forward/center Josh Boone and seasoned forward Cliff Robinson will share
minutes off the Nets’ bench. Both coaches will not get much help from the
bench unless a serious injury occurs to one of the starters. The top five will
play most of the game unless its a blowout situation. The Raptors didn’t blow
too many teams out of the water this season, and neither did New Jersey. But
the Nets are more experienced and have the reserves for the stretch run.
PREDICTION: The Nets are making their franchise-record sixth straight
postseason appearance, and for Frank its his fourth consecutive trip. Even
though the Raptors are the third-seeded team in the East because they captured
a weak Atlantic Division title, Carter and Kidd have the firepower to
extinguish any kind of heat Toronto tries to bring. New Jersey is a well-
rounded squad which is ready to take the next step towards an NBA title. The
Nets haven’t been to the finals since back-to-back trips in 2002 and 2003. New
Jersey has a solid shot at dethroning conference-champion Detroit if the two
squads eventually meet up down the road. Mitchell did an excellent job with
his bunch, but it almost seems as if the Raptors are just happy to be division
champs and the No. 3 seed. Happiness will do nothing against a determined Nets
team and Bosh is only one player. Even if rookie of the year candidate
Bargnani returns at full strength, he and Bosh will not be able to match the
production of Carter and Kidd in this series.
NETS IN SIX