Prior to the start of the regular season, the Toronto Raptors‘ best-case scenario was expected to include little more than six months of disappointment followed by a late run that landed them in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. And when Rudy Gay departed in December, basketball fans in Toronto understandably lost faith and began to look towards 2015 as their best shot to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
On the opposite end of those projections, the Brooklyn Nets were chosen by many to finish with an Atlantic Division title, and despite a slow start, began their season with much more promise than the Raptors ever have. Five months later however, a resurgent Brooklyn squad that has recently fought its way to the .500 mark and a Toronto team fixated on the playoffs are now locked in what could be an intriguing race down the stretch.
Currently seeded sixth in the East, Brooklyn will now be relying on the experiences of veterans like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson to see itself through the final 20-plus games of the regular season. But even with the resume of head coach Jason Kidd to draw upon, the Nets will need the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls and the Raptors to falter if they hope to improve on their present position in the East.
But if the playoffs did begin today, Toronto and Brooklyn would face off in the opening round. And with two of the three games that have already been played between these two having been decided by a total of three points, Raptors-Nets could be one of the better first-round matchups.
Beginning on Monday, when Toronto is scheduled to face Brooklyn for the fourth and final time, the Raptors will play five of its next 10 games against teams headed for the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Nets will be tested a little more than Raptors, with seven of their next nine outings against opponents bound for the postseason.
On Monday night however, Toronto’s trip to the Barclay’s Center will provide the opportunity to test themselves against a Nets team that has improved significantly since their last meeting. But with two straight victories over Brooklyn, it’s important for the relatively young Raptors to avoid complacency and remember who they’re playing and what a win could potentially mean down the road.