The closest thing to a Raptors rivalry

Following last year's crushing seven-game first-round playoff loss, the Brooklyn Nets may be the closest thing the Raptors have to a true rival. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)

The last time the Raptors faced the Nets in Brooklyn was during last year’s playoffs. It was May 2, 2014 and Deron Williams led his club to a 14-point win, forcing a game seven showdown in Toronto two days later.

The Nets won that deciding game in Toronto—something you likely already knew—and it seemed as if the series marked the birth of a new rivalry between the Borough and the North.

“Because of what happened last year I feel like the closest thing we have to a rivalry is the Nets,” said Patrick Patterson after Friday’s shootaround. “The animosity, the intensity, everything that goes into the game leading up to it. Losing in game seven, Joe Johnson taking over and exposing us as far as not having a strong wing to guard him—if there was any rival for us in the league, it’d be the Brooklyn Nets.”

However, Patterson quickly acknowledged that, given the changes the Nets have made since last May, the intensity just isn’t the same.

“They're definitely not the same team as last year, just because Pierce isn't there,” he said. “They have a lot of injuries [and] guys are getting older, so their minutes are limited. Although their record doesn't show it, they are still a solid team ... but they're a completely different team than last year.”

Pierce signed with the Washington Wizards in the off-season; Kevin Garnett is averaging just over 21 minutes per night and has missed nine games this season; and Williams is suffering through, arguably, his worst season as a pro, posting just 13.9 points per game (his lowest scoring average since his rookie season in 2005-06).

“It's over with. It's a new season,” said DeMar DeRozan when asked if there were any hard feelings left between Toronto and Brooklyn. “We have to move on. They're a different team [and] we're sort of a different team. They're still a talented team. D-Will has been hurt a lot. KG has been out a lot ... [the Nets’ lack of success] is kind of surprising, though.”

The Nets struggles have dimmed the animosity between these two teams. DeRozan and Patterson are right: Toronto doesn't really have a true rival yet. New York may have been the logical choice at one point in time, but any meaningful matchup against the Knicks is now more than 10 years old.

Perhaps a battle could be brewing in Washington as the Raptors and Wizards get set to tip it off in D.C. on Saturday night. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams and with the trajectory both clubs are on, the chances of crossing paths in the playoffs for years to come seem completely legit. Until then, Brooklyn will have to do.