It’s always tough to go up against Deron Williams. Insert Joe Johnson beside him in the backcourt and add in the hoopla of a home opener in a brand new, super-hyped arena and it becomes even tougher.
This is what the Raptors will face in Brooklyn Saturday night when they take on the Nets at 7 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.
While the Nets were originally scheduled to take on the New York Knicks in their home opener, the game was postponed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. For a Nets team eager to get their first season in Brooklyn started, there’s going to be a lot of energy in the building.
The Raptors know that they’ll need to focus and block out the extra distractions in the Barclay’s Center on Saturday night. Raptors guard John Lucas III smiled when he was asked about the Nets team waiting for them in Brooklyn.
“I think it’s going to be crazy,” he said. “The atmosphere is going to be nuts, wild. We have to come in ready to play. We don’t want them to win in their home opener. We want to go in there and win. That’s what we’re preparing to do. That’s our mentality. We don’t care if it’s their home opener, new gym, at the end of the day it’s a basketball game.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey acknowledged the challenge of playing in an opponent’s home opener, but isn’t overly concerned with the festivities taking place in Brooklyn and doesn’t think his team will get too caught up in the moment.
“We’re a young team but I don’t think we will,” he said. “You can’t allow that to happen. There’s a possibility, but I don’t think so. I’m going to make sure I make that point: Let’s play our game. Let’s play basketball. We’ve played a game. They haven’t played a regular-season game. We have an advantage from that standpoint. We can’t control what they do on opening night.”
What Casey is concerned with is the backcourt of Williams and Johnson. With height and size, the two will prove tough for a Raptors team that is still experimenting with small lineups. On Friday afternoon, Casey said the team would probably need to use a more conventional lineup.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s,” Casey said. “We need to do some things defensively to try to negate some of that [size]. You’ve got to make sure the paint is tight. And if they’re raining threes over the top of you, that’s what you want to make sure you force, more so than them getting into the paint and getting the best of all worlds.”
While the backcourt is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this new look Nets team, Casey also mentioned the importance of containing big men Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche. While Blatche has earned a reputation for everything but his play, Casey said that whenever one of his teams have faced Blatche, he has played well.
With Brook Lopez, Humphries and Blatche, the Raptors big men will have their hands full in the paint. Still, the key for the Raptors will be containing Williams and disrupting Johnson’s ability to get the offensive looks that he wants. How tough of a challenge will this be?
Landry Fields called Johnson one of the five hardest players to guard in the league. After allowing David West to get going late for Indiana during Wednesday’s loss, the Raptors will try to prevent Johnson from finding his rhythm in Brooklyn so they can try to play spoiler for the Nets home opener.