Nets-Raptors Preview


All five teams in the Atlantic Division started the season poorly, and still, with roughly 40 percent of the season already completed, none of the five have winning records.

A few of the teams have started to pick up their play of late, led by the division-leading Toronto Raptors. On Saturday night, the Raptors host one of the other hard-charging teams in the Atlantic, the Brooklyn Nets.

The Raptors (17-17) have won six of their past eight games overall, and four of five at home. Their improved play has coincided with the trade of small forward Rudy Gay and the elevation of Terrence Ross into the starting five. Since Gay was dealt and Ross moved into the lineup on Dec. 10, Toronto is 10-5, with the second-year small forward averaging 13.1 points and shooting 46.1 percent (41 of 89) from 3-point range.

"He's improving as a basketball player," point guard Kyle Lowry told the team's website about Ross. "Catching and shooting, his confidence is unbelievable. He's showing his versatility. He can play defense. He's scoring, but if you look at the defensive assignments he's had in the past few weeks, he's done a great job at it … I know I tip my hat to him."

Ross had 17 points in the team's last game, a 112-91 victory over Detroit on Wednesday. Lowry led the way with 21 points, DeMar DeRozan had 19 and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nets (15-21) also enter this matchup with confidence, having won a season-best five straight. The most recent of the victories may be the team's most impressive this season, knocking off Miami 104-95 in double overtime on Friday.

An improved defense has been the biggest key for Brooklyn, which is holding opponents to 90.8 points during the five-game run. The Nets allowed 102.4 points per game in the season's first 31 contests.

On Friday, the Nets held the Heat to 42.5 percent from the field, Miami's second-worst performance of the season.

"That's something we've been working on since 2014," joked coach Jason Kidd, noting that the team hasn't lost in the calendar year.

Besides outlasting the defending champions, Kidd's club also ended Golden State's 10-game win streak and beat Oklahoma City during its hot stretch.

''We've obviously been playing better as of late," said guard Shaun Livingston, who had 19 points, a career-high 11 rebounds and five assists. "I think our momentum that we were carrying into this game, we're trying to ride that wave."

Needing 58 minutes to win on Friday may not bode well for the Nets, however. They are 1-5 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, and 0-3 in games following overtime contests.

The Nets beat the Raptors for the fourth time in five meetings, 102-100 in Toronto on Nov. 26 behind 24 points from Andray Blatche.

This trip to Toronto marks the beginning of a three-game, three-country road trip for Brooklyn. Following the game against the Raptors, the Nets travel to London, where they will play Atlanta on Thursday, before returning to New York to play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 20.