Just a couple years after their first-round series, the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets are franchises trending in opposite directions.
Here are five observations from the Raptors’ 91-74 win over the Nets.
Small forward, big decision
The news of the day was DeMarre Carroll having arthroscopic surgery to take care of his troubling knee issue for the stretch drive. James Johnson got his eighth start of the season in Carroll’s place.
Without Carroll for six to eight weeks, Terrence Ross role stays unchanged as he remains the first wing player off the bench.
The fact Johnson now knows where his minutes will come from consistently, and is playing in a lineup with starters where he doesn’t have to worry about offence, is key. Johnson was a plus-19 on the night on 50 per cent shooting while Ross was a team worst minus-8 shooting just 20 per cent from the field.
Tough win that was tough to watch
It was a win but it wasn’t pretty. In the fourth quarter alone, Terrence Ross erased a potential and-one basket from Cory Joseph by jumping up and needlessly touching the ball as it was certainly in the cylinder and about to fall down through the hoop.
Then Patrick Patterson bit on a bad Bargnani pump fake and Bismack Biyombo took a fadeaway jumper. Despite all that, the Raptors still won by 16. The Nets started the second quarter on a 17-5 run to go up by five. Toronto ended the quarter on a 16-2 run to go up nine.
For stretches, it was a game of attrition to see which team would play the least sloppy. In the end, the Raptors’ superior talent and intensity won out but it wasn’t a victory to brag about.
DeMar Derozan’s New Year’s resolution must have been to take on more three pointers. The historically reluctant three-point shooter has hit six of the 11 attempts he’s made from beyond the arc in January.
DeRozan only hit seven three pointers during the entire month of December.
It is a shot DeRozan has worked on in the past but now he seems to be stepping into it with confidence in game time situations rather than reluctantly shooting it when he has no choice because he’s wide open.
Terrible trade still hurts
You can’t watch this Nets team and wonder if a franchise has ever been more poorly managed.
The Nets’ trade with the Boston Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett might be the worst of all-time. Despite being repeat payers in the luxury tax, all it produced was a single playoff series win in seven games over the Raptors.
For starters, Garnett and Pierce are no longer with the Nets but are now valuable members of other teams. Both of which are in better situations than the Nets are currently in, as are the Celtics. It hasn’t been punitive yet because all that has come from it so far is the 17th overall pick in 2014, which ended up being James Young.
However, the Nets still owe the Celtics their 2016 and 2018 unprotected draft picks. In addition, Boston has the right to swap picks in 2017. The way things are going now, all those picks should be in the high lottery. Because of the Joe Johnson trade, Atlanta was able to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2015.
Without the ability to improve via the draft, the only options the Nets have is to trade their only asset in Brook Lopez or over spend via free agency, something that got them in trouble in the first place.
Some thought the Miami Heat’s “big three” were going to be the blueprint in constructing a super team but the Nets are a cautionary tale that trying to buy a championship comes at a cost.
The curious case of Andrea Bargnani
What will be the lasting legacy of Andrea Bargnani?
It’s hard to say he’s a bust as a first-overall pick when he’s fourth in all-time scoring for the Raptors, a team that has been around for over 20 years. Yet the fan base in Toronto largely views his tenure as a disappointment.
It doesn’t seem like a situation where time will heal all wounds like they did with former Raptors Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter.
Currently, Bargnani is a first-overall pick on a bad team who didn't play until garbage time at end of third quarter when the Raptors were up 10. Andrea has yet to start a game for the Nets and despite his perimeter shooting being his redeeming quality. He’s only hit two three-pointers this year.
It is crazy to think “Il Mago” is already 30 years old in his 9th NBA season. It is not crazy to think he soon might be out of the league. In an era where the game has changed to increase the value of big players who can shoot on the perimeter like him his production has steadily decreased.
Super Stat - The Raptors went the first 29 minutes of the game without giving up a free throw attempt. Brook Lopez was the first Nets player to go to the line in the third quarter. In what was a scrappy game, Toronto did a great job of defending without fouling.