By Terry Stotts (as told to Rob Peterson)
Oh, the intrigue. Vince Carter returns to Toronto as a Net in the playoffs. The Raptors haven't been to the postseason since 2002. It should be an intense series with emotion to spare. We called on former NBA coach Terry Stotts to break down the series and make a prediction.
You have a youthful, energetic, up-tempo team in Toronto that surprised a lot of people with their success this season, and you have a an older, experienced team, that in their prime, was very similar to Toronto in that they pushed the ball. I think transition offense and defense will be very important to both teams.
WHAT TO EXPECT: RAPTORS
I think Toronto with their two point guards [T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon] who look to push the ball as often as possible. And even thought they're not playing with the tempo they indicated that they wanted to play at the beginning of the season by getting 100 shots, the Raptors are still and efficient, up-tempo team that looks to push in transition.
I think that's as much due to their wings and how their wings run as much as their point guard push the ball.
And it's not that you can't run in the postseason. Running teams do run in the postseason. Teams, coaches, player get a little more conservative in the playoffs that has a tendency to slow things down. I think every team wants to get easy baskets, so the challenge for Toronto's is to continue to run after misses. Taking the ball out of the basket and running after makes, that will be their challenge.
WHAT TO EXPECT: NETS
I think New Jersey will pick their spots. Easy baskets are always at a premium in the NBA, particularly in playoff basketball. They'll probably try to pick their spots more with the pass than the dribble. You see T.J. and Calderon do it more with the dribble, but Jason Kidd does it with the pass. He and Steve Nash are the best at pushing it and
The thing with New Jersey is Kidd needs someone to pass it ahead to, and I don't know if Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson run the wings as consistently as they used to.
New Jersey has historically been a good steal team, but now they're near the bottom in the league in steals. Still, they've done a good job in creating transition opportunities when they do steal the ball.
It's difficult to say what adjustments they may make going into the series. The adjustments are made throughout the course of the series. There may be a little bit of tinkering heading into the series, but I think both teams will concentrate on their style that has gotten them where they are, and then go from there.
Both coaches will be analyzing their four meetings during the season. The difficult thing for both coaches is these teams last played two months ago. How much validity does that game two months ago have on the game that will be played this weekend? They played four times, but they played them in November, December, January and February. The coaches need to evaluate how those games have an impact on what the teams are doing today.
I would anticipate both coaches cleaning up and concentrating on doing what they do well. Obviously, they'll prepare for the other team, but they'll stick with their basics and then they'll make key adjustments after that.
In the playoffs, there's always a subplot, no matter what series it is. Different players and coaches handle it differently. I think the spotlight has been on Vince for a lot of years. He's a mature guy, he's been around. Obviously, he wants to play well and players want to play well against a former team. But for him to try and go out and prove something ... he knows he has to help his team win and whatever that entails. The ball will be in his hands and he'll be motivated regardless of the opponent.
I expect it to be a good series. You have the contrasting styles: youth vs. experience. Neither team is necessarily a good offensive rebounding team. What I look for, I think you know that Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson will do their thing, as will Toronto's main guys. The biggest question for me is what team will have the X-Factor? It may not even be a consistent X-Factor. It might be Bostjan Nachbar one game or Mo Peterson one game or Mikki Moore one game.
The team that has more X-Factors going for them from game to game, but I think the stars will be pretty consistent.
-- Terry Stotts appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association