As far as odds go, the Brooklyn Nets are one of the teams that many expect to have a short postseason run this season. Finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference, the Nets are set to face off against the second-seeded Toronto Raptors, who also happen to be the NBA’s defending champs.
Obviously, this is not the same title-winning Raptors team from last season, with their former superstar Kawhi Leonard now on the Los Angeles Clippers. Nevertheless, Toronto has proven that despite losing their best player over the summer, they are still capable of making a decent run in the playoffs this year.
Clearly, the Raptors are the overwhelming favorites to win this first-round series. More than a few experts are even picking them to do a clean sweep on a depleted Nets side, who are missing pretty much half of their roster in the bubble.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still out injured. Likewise, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, and Taurean Prince all didn’t make the trip to Florida. The man that has stepped up for a short-handed Brooklyn side is none other than 6-foot-6 swingman Caris LeVert, who will undoubtedly be the key for the Nets if they have any hope of winning this series.
LeVert has been balling in Disney World. The 25-year-old has definitely taken advantage of the opportunity that has been handed to him, and this has resulted in averages of 25.0 points (on 48.0 percent shooting), 5.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.5 steals in six games played inside the bubble. LeVert saved the best for last, finishing the Nets’ seeding games with a 37-point scoring outburst against the surging Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. He has easily been Brooklyn’s best player since the restart, and much more of the same will be expected of him moving forward.
It is worth noting that one of LeVert’s best outings of the season came against the Raptors. Back in February, the fourth-year guard/forward scored 37 points against a full-strength Toronto side. Then again, despite his heroics, Brooklyn still ended up losing that contest by one point. The fact of the matter is that LeVert can get buckets on any given night, and he’s done it in the past against this Raptors defense. LeVert will need to be in top form every single game in order to give his team a chance at upsetting the defending champs, and in the end, that might not even be enough.
Throughout the regular season, it is unsurprising that the Raptors hold the edge over the Nets, winning all but one out of their four meetings during the campaign. That one win by Brooklyn came in February — just a few days after the previously discussed LeVert offensive explosion. LeVert was not able to match his 37-point performance a few days prior, but he still scored a team-high 20 points — further proof that a Brooklyn win will be highly dependent on him.
However, another factor that came into play is Pascal Siakam. The Nets were able to contain the 6-foot-9 power forward on that particular matchup, forcing Siakam to struggle from the field. He went 6-of-17 from the floor for 35.3-percent shooting on the evening, which is a far cry from his 45.3-percent shooting clip on the season. Siakam has stepped in as Toronto’s best player sans Leonard, and the Nets will need to do everything in their power to try and stop Siakam from dominating this series.
What Brooklyn has going for them here is that this is the first time Siakam will be the team’s first option on offense in the playoffs. He was outstanding last season as a second (or third) option, but this time around, there will be so much pressure on the All-Star forward. He has proven in the past that he can perform in the grandest of stages, but it has yet to be seen if he can do so as Toronto’s unbridled main man.
This season, Siakam’s numbers have seen a significant spike, especially in the coring department. He is now averaging 22.9 points per game, as compared to the 16.9 the previous season. However, his efficiency has also taken a dip, with the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year winner currently shooting 45.3 percent from the field, as opposed to 54.9 percent last term. He’s obviously taking more shots now as the team’s primary option, but the variance is too substantial to be ignored.
This might just be something Brooklyn can exploit. If they can somehow get in Siakam’s head and make him question himself, then surely, they would be giving themselves a much bigger chance of progressing through to the next round.