Game Preview: Raptors vs. Nets
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
The Brooklyn Nets make their second trip to the Air Canada Centre this season to take on the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. Brooklyn comes to Toronto having lost eight straight while the Raptors snapped a two-game losing streak with a victory against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.
Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET
Broadcast Info: SN1 / SN590
Looking for a repeat showing
In Toronto’s previous meeting with the Nets on Dec 20, the Raptors took control early and never gave it up. After dropping two straight games before notching a victory against the Boston Celtics, Toronto would enjoy another solid start against the Nets on Friday.
The Raptors won the first match up 116-104 with Kyle Lowry’s 23 points in 34 minutes leading all scorers. DeMarre Carroll added 17 points while Jonas Valanciunas contributed a 10-point, 14-rebound double-double. Brooklyn was led by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s 19 points off the bench as the Nets played without Brook Lopez who was out for rest.
Playing alongside Patterson
The Raptors have shuffled with their starting lineup, particularly the power forward position as of late. From rookie Pascal Siakam to Norman Powell, to most recently Patrick Patterson, head coach Dwane Casey has referred to that position as “fluid” as he tries out different lineups. Patterson was inserted into the starting five in Toronto’s victory against the Celtics on Tuesday after returning from a four-game absence because of a strained knee, but he did not practice on Thursday.
Whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, the Raptors are almost always better with Patterson on the floor.
“He’s a smart player,” Cory Joseph said. “[He’s got] a high IQ. Obviously I would love to play with him [all of the time] but whatever helps the team win, I’m all for it.”
While many players get caught up in starting or not starting, Patterson has quietly become one of the most dependable sixth men in the league when he is coming off the bench for the Raptors. Joseph has plenty of experience with teammates excelling in that role.
“I was in San Antonio for a long time and Ginobili came off the bench,” Joseph said. ‘[He’s] still coming off the bench, and he’s still easy a capable starter for sure. Some guys might prefer it that way, as long as they’re getting the minutes.”
One game at a time
After enduring one of the toughest schedules in the league to date, the Raptors will play their next four games against Brooklyn, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn again and then the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite the upcoming stretch against opponents with losing records, the Raptors are forgetting wins and losses and preparing for each game and opponent as it comes.
“Speaking for myself, I try to play every game the same in terms of my effort I'm putting out there,” Cory Joseph said. “Every NBA player can play at any given time, any given game. If you don’t come ready to play, everybody has seen it in the past, you can lose games. We’re going to have to come ready. [Brooklyn is] a young team, they play incredibly hard. It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to play hard and play smart.”
Dwane Casey has also cautioned his players against getting caught up in records rather than game plans through this stretch.
“I was just talking to everyone about it,” Casey said. “It’s going to be a tough race with Boston behind us. Atlanta is coming on, Milwaukee is still [there]. It’s going to be a bunch of teams [grouped together to the point], where every game is must win. Whether it’s Brooklyn or San Antonio, whoever it is, every game has importance.
“We can’t look at records when you’re in a hunt like we are and in a tight race like we are,” he continued. “You’ve got to go and take care of business. Play to your personality, stay focused.”
With the All-Star break roughly a month away, Casey knows this can be a tough part of the season. He’s challenging his players to push through mental fatigue.
“We’ve playing for everything,” he said. “We’re playing for the team in front of us, the team behind us, to fight off those teams. We’re not in a position to say we’re just playing for first place. We’re fighting for very inch of the court. Every night we’re playing with passion, with physicality and all of the other things will take care of themselves when you take care of those things.”