Friday night we welcome to the ACC the one and only Vince Carter and his traveling minstrel show, I mean the Nets. I am sure the Raptors fans will lovingly welcome back the team’s all-time scoring leader with loving shouts of adoration.
Now that I have that off my chest, Friday’s game with the Nets is another key divisional game that we can’t afford to lose. With the Celtics so far, and again, the class of the East if not the league we need to keep pace with the teams bunched up behind them until we can find our groove and put a few wins together. At 6 – 5, the Raptors are tied with the Knicks for 2nd in the Atlantic a game ahead of the 5 – 6 76ers and 2 games up on the 4 – 6 Nets. Divisional games this season will have huge playoff ramifications every night as the Celtics are showing little sign of slowing down with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce doing what they do best, WIN.
The Raptors come into the game off a week where they played without Jose Calderon for two games. Sunday they were able to hold off the struggling Heat at the ACC then headed to Florida for a split against the Magic and the Heat. The Magic took advantage of our poor outside shooting as Jason Kapono and Jamario Moon struggled as they have all season and Will Solomon lead them to a two game total of 44 turnovers, 24 against the Magic as Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson all had 22 points and attacked Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal all night long. Wednesday saw a rematch against the Heat in Miami and the return of the spiritual leader of this team Jose Calderon. Cutting the turnovers in half allowed this team to spread the floor and move the ball as Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal turned in double doubles with 31 points and 27 rebounds between them while Andrea Bargnani started with 10 quick points and 25 points on the game.
The Nets are coming off a week where they lost to the Pacers and the Cavaliers but beat the Hawks in a home and home last weekend. This team of course has Vince Carter who is still putting up 22.8 points a game and 5 assists. This year, they have a few guys that are full of potential and have been called a playoff team in more than one pre-season ranking. Devin Harris brings 23 points and 4 boards and 6 assists to the floor every night to help this team as they await an injured front court to return. Eduardo Najera, Josh Boone and Stromile Swift are all out at this point which leaves the front court to younger players such as Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian who are playing well, as is Keyon Dooling. The Nets will be in tough as we continue to floor our 3 man wrecking crew up front while Anthony Parker seems to have found his stroke and Jose Calderon keep the back end humming along and in control. Devin Harris against Jose Calderon will be the match to pay attention to as both will try to establish the tempo of the game and keep the offenses running at a high level. Anthony Parker against Vince Carter will be the key match-up in the back court as Parker will have to play solid at both ends to contain him. Where the Nets will struggle is in the front court as Brook Lopez will probably start against Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh will face Yi Jianlian which should give the Raptors another advantage as they bring into the game a 3 game average of 27/12 for Bosh and 14.5/15 for Jermaine. I am not sure who Sam Mitchell will start against Bobby Simmonds, but if Jamario starts, this will be an exciting match up of two very athletic wingmen. If Sam goes big, which I think he will to exploit the weak Nets front at this point, Andrea brings a three game average of 14 points and nearly 4 boards a game. If he can grab a few more rebounds, I think all Raptors fans would be able to handle those numbers night after night. Starting him at the 3 spot by nature would afford him less opportunity to grab boards, but he is beginning to balance his game out, which has to be good. Both benches are in search of consistency with Roko Ukic and Will Solomon showing how tough it is to step in and play PG in this league, Kris Humphries and Jason Kapono will be looked at to provide solid help from a bench that is very thin. The Nets are hurt and therefore their bench strength is starting which is never a good situation to be in but Ryan Anderson and Jarvis Hayes provide the minutes needed to get the guys rest.
I look for a game where both teams will rely on their stars. Chris Bosh and Vince Carter will be expected to shine. I also think that if the Raptors pound away at the inside on the glass as they have averaged 46.3 rebounds including 12.6 offensive boards per game over the last 3 games. They have allowed just 37.6 in the past 3 games, 11.3 of which are offensive. That is one area you don’t want to be the worst in the league at for sure.
Enjoy the game.