Nets vs. Raptors: Brooklyn Tips Off Big-Time Back-to-Back in Toronto

The Brooklyn Nets hit the road having won nine of their last 13 games, but facing their toughest back-to-back set of the season so far, and just their third overall. It’s also the start of a stretch of three games in four days.

They’ll be in Toronto Saturday night to face the defending champion Raptors, then return to Brooklyn to host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

“Tough test. Yeah, tough task,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Tough back-to-back, especially with the quick turnaround the next day. But we’ve got to focus on Toronto, try to go get that one. I think they’re an elite team. I think they’re going to compete for a championship. I think I said that in the preseason when we played them. I don’t want to mix my words. Both these teams we’re going to play are championship contenders, and it’s a great challenge for us.”

The Sixers are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating (103.2) and the Raptors are right behind (103.3). Toronto also leads the league in defensive effective field goal percentage (48.6).

“I think the similarity is probably physically, just a lot of size, length and athleticism between both of them,” said Joe Harris. “Toronto is probably one of the more in-sync defensive teams, I would say, where everyone just seems to – they don’t get out of position at times. They don’t really beat themselves in that end, so it’s one of those situations where you’re going to be forced to make tough shots, there’s a lot of contested shots but it’s good for us. It raises our offensive level of game, it’s not one of those games where you come in knowing that you’re going to get a free bucket here or there. They’re usually always in the right position and making things tough.”

It will be a quick turnaround for the Nets to take on Philadelphia, which knocked them out of last season’s playoffs in the first round. The Sixers made some offseason changes, but they still rely on center Joel Embiid as their centerpiece and they’re third in the Eastern Conference right now with a 19-7 record, a game behind second-place Miami.

“Everything is on Toronto right now, you’re not skipping ahead,” said Harris. “As soon as you finish up with Toronto, you look at that film, you analyze that game and then the morning you probably prepare for Philly. That’s the way the NBA goes.”


This weekend’s back-to-back brings some big-time center matchups for Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen. There’s Toronto’s Marc Gasol on Saturday and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid on Sunday. Embiid was an All-NBA Second Team pick last season behind Denver’s Nikola Jokic, while the veteran Gasol has a First Team selection on his resume from 2014-15 and was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13.

“Listen, I think he’s been excellent,” said Kenny Atkinson of Allen. “But listen I think Jokic, he’s already passed some tests. It would be great to see how he does with these guys. But like I said, I think DeAndre (Jordan) helps that. I think DeAndre helps in terms of you have a relief pitcher to spare. It’s not, ‘Hey, JA play 42 minutes against these guys.’ We have a guy that can play both of them. But JA, he’s been really good lately.”

Allen, the 21-year-old, third-year center, has taken another step forward over the last month. In Brooklyn’s last 14 games, he’s averaging 15.7 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 69.6 percent. In those 14 games, he’s posted 11 double-doubles. For the season, he’s third in the NBA in field goal percentage at 66.9 percent.

This will be his first meeting with Embiid since last spring’s playoff series against the Sixers.

“Get ready for the matchup,” said Allen. “Another game, different person. Obviously he’s one of the best players in the NBA right now so you have to prepare a certain way, but it’s just getting ready for the matchup.”


The Raptors are 16-8, but have lost four of their last five, most recently a 112-92 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. They have the league’s eighth-best net rating (5.1).

Toronto is sixth in the NBA in steals per game (8.5), seventh in rebounds (46.3) and ninth in assists (25.1). The Raptors are also aggressive and efficient in shooting from 3-point range. They’re fourth in 3-point percentage (37.5), fifth in 3-pointers made (13.5) and seventh in 3-pointers attempted (36.1).

With Kawhi Leonard departed for LA, last year’s Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam has taken another big jump for Toronto. He’s leading the Raptors with 24.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Perennial All-Star guard Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup last week after missing 11 games and is averaging 19.1 points and 6.8 assists, while fellow guard Fred VanVleet is averaging 18.0 points and 7.0 assists.