The Toronto Raptors visit the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night in an Eastern conference NBA matchup. Both teams bring winning runs into the game and both have plenty to play for over the last couple of weeks of the NBA’s regular season.
The Raptors might finally be settling into life without point guard Kyle Lowry. The team improved to 5-4 without their second leading scorer 113-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. It was their third straight wins after successful performances against the LA Lakers and Houston Rockets.
Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams have stepped up playing better basketball alongside the team’s leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan, but a big bonus for Dwane Casey’s team has been improved defensive play.
That’ll probably be the story of the game against Brooklyn as well where Jonas Valanciunas will have the important task of keeping the currently red hot Brooks Lopez quietly. Valanciunas certainly has that ability and Toronto’s inside defense has also been boosted by better attention to switching at the right time and committing to keeping teams out of the lane.
Playing better defense, along with getting Lowry back, could be the keys to the sort of impact Toronto is able to make in the postseason. They look set to finish with either the third or fourth seed, but whomever they end up playing, solid defense will be important.
A five-game losing streak at the beginning of March appeared set to leave the Nets dead in the water as far as the playoffs were concerned. However, a team that showed little life of any sort for most of the season is now going for their sixth straight win after winning nine of their last 11.
Deron Williams had by far his best game of the season on Wednesday scoring 26 points, while collecting seven rebounds and seven assists against the New York Knicks. Lionel Hollins’ star players have gradually come back out of the woodwork this season. Joe Johnson has had some quality games in the last month, while Brooks Lopez has been nothing short of dominant since the start of March averaging 20.9 points per game and picking up 9.1 rebounds.
Not only do the Nets now look like a team destined to make the playoffs, they also look like a potentially highly dangerous first round opponent. Lopez is scoring big points from the front court and this team has plenty of offensive options with Johnson, Williams, Thaddeus Young and Jarrett Jack in their line-up.
Betting Preview: Brooklyn (-2) vs. Toronto
It’s always dangerous to pick against the hot team, but the Nets are a tough team to figure out. Even Tuesday’s victory over the Knicks required Brooklyn to overcome conceding a 14-point lead. They’ve beaten some good teams on this run, most notably the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it feels like Toronto is playing good basketball and this is where Brooklyn’s winning streak stops.
The Pick: Toronto (+2) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 39-31