The defending champion Toronto Raptors begin their title defense against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. It’s a series they should win considering they are the No. 2 seed and the Nets are playing without a plethora of key players.
Despite the departures of superstar small forward Kawhi Leonard and veteran shooting guard Danny Green in free agency last offseason, the Raptors have not missed a beat in 2019-20. Versatile swingman Pascal Siakam, the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year, is an All-Star now that he’s the No. 1 option with Leonard gone.
Meanwhile, veterans Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have been productive and consistent as Siakam’s supporting cast.
With that said, let’s take a look at three reasons why the Raptors will defeat the Nets in five games.
3. Nets are decimated by injuries
Brooklyn will be without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince. The Raptors will have to focus on Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen in this first-round series. As long as Toronto limits those three guys, they should coast to a first-round series win over Brooklyn.
While LeVert and veteran guard Jamal Crawford may be able to go on personal runs with their isolation scoring skills, the Nets just don’t have enough collective scoring to keep up with the Raptors in a seven-game series.
Toronto has the No. 1 scoring defense in the NBA, so they are going to make things extremely difficult for Brooklyn in the half-court setting. In the end, the Nets don’t have adequate shot creators to make this series competitive.
2. Raptors’ depth is lethal
Toronto gets scoring up and down its roster. Just when you think you’ve solved Siakam and Lowry, Fred VanVleet will take over a game with his scoring and playmaking skills.
Gasol, Ibaka and Norman Powell can also steer momentum in the Raptors’ favor with their defensive instincts.
Even though Leonard and Green are gone, the Raptors still have the championship pedigree from last season, so their previous choke jobs in the playoffs should no longer be in play. Look for Toronto to have balanced scoring for three quarters and then lean on Siakam to close out the game in the fourth quarter.
The talented youngster usually makes the right play with the ball in his hands late, whether he’s driving to the rim and scoring or collapsing the paint and freeing up Lowry or VanVleet for 3.
1. Raptors have superior talent and coaching
At the end of the day, the Raptors just have the better roster and superior coaching staff. LeVert is the best player for the Nets in this series and he’s not at that level yet where he can take over games and not allow his team to lose under any circumstance as Durant and Irving can.
The Raptors have All-Stars and solid veterans leading their team and arguably the top coach in the NBA in Nick Nurse. He’s one of the finalists for the 2020 Coach of the Year Award and many believe he should win since he guided Toronto to the second-best record in the East after losing a two-time Finals MVP in Leonard.
The Raptors are going to defeat the Nets by committee and wear them down with their passing and off-ball movement for four quarters. Brooklyn may be able to hang with Toronto at the beginning of the games before Nurse and his staff make their adjustments and identify the Nets’ tendencies.
Siakam is averaging 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on the season. He’s a three-level scorer and has the experience from last year’s Finals in closing games.
Lowry, meanwhile, is putting up his usual steady numbers of 19.4 points, 5.0 boards and 7.5 dimes. His leadership and defensive skills continue to be underrated by pundits, as Lowry seemingly makes winning plays for the Raptors every night.
He may not always shoot the ball well in the playoffs, but Lowry is a guy who will impact the game even if he’s not scoring. Last year against the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs, he had zero points in Game 1 but chipped in eight assists, seven rebounds and was somehow a + 11.
The Raptors worked hard all season to get that No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Since there are no fans in Orlando, though, there’s no home-court advantage, which is a real thing for Toronto given the fans at Scotiabank Arena are extremely loud.
With no fans to bring the energy, the Raptors will have to rely on each other for motivation and spirit.