Now that it’s official and the Toronto Raptors will be facing the Brooklyn Nets in their first playoff appearance since 2008, Dwane Casey and the rest of the coaching staff are busy formulating a plan of attack to ensure that the Atlantic Division champs aren’t merely a one-round wonder.
Among the many obstacles that Toronto will encounter in a series with the Nets, an overall lack of playoff experience compared to that of the Raptors’ opponents seems to be the most popular reason to write them off, and the naysayers will have no shortage of statistical ammunition to launch at this young franchise in the coming weeks.
Led by second-unit standout Tyler Hansbrough, who has logged a whopping 35 minutes of floor time in the playoffs, and veteran reserve John Salmons, who has seen just 22 minutes of action in the NBA‘s second season, there’s no denying Toronto’s on-court inexperience in the postseason. However, the Raptors will have a battle-tested head coach at the helm.
During the 11 years that Casey spent as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics, the franchise won 50-plus games five times. Nine of those 11 teams finished above .500, and Toronto’s current bench boss played a key role on the 1996 squad that earned 64 victories and won the Western Conference title.
While his first stint as an NBA head coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2005-2007 failed to land him a playoff appearance, Casey’s next stop on the coaching circuit would give him some valuable experience. At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, Casey took a job with the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant to head coach Rick Carlisle, where he was charged with running the defense.
During his three years with the Mavs, the team won 50-plus games each year and defeated the Miami Heat to secure the 2010-11 NBA championship.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Casey’s defenses held opponents to just 92.5 points per game, and coupled with the Raptors who ranked seventh and allowed 98.0 PPG in 2013-14, Toronto has the necessary ingredients to give opposing offenses some serious headaches.
And if there was ever an intriguing side note to Casey’s upcoming debut as a head coach in the playoffs, it’s that the Nets’ first-year head coach Jason Kidd was the starting point guard on the Dallas team that won the title in 2011, and was crucial as one of the Mavericks’ best defenders.
Having said that, there’s a reason that Brooklyn wanted to face Toronto in the first round of the playoffs, and much of it is based on the fact that the Nets simply aren’t threatened by the Raptors despite splitting the season series 2-2.
Because the Nets knows they have progressed into a far better team than they were in the first three meetings with Toronto and view themselves as the Eastern Conference power that they were initially projected to be, it’s now up to the Raptors to prove that their Atlantic Division rivals made a fatal mistake.