Nets-Raptors Preview

The Associated Press

The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors concluded last season second from the bottom and in last place, respectively, in the Atlantic Division.

While the injury-plagued Nets could be headed for another disappointing finish, the Raptors are enjoying some early season success thanks to some stifling defense.

New Jersey looks to avoid a fifth consecutive loss at Toronto as it tries to snap a six-game overall losing streak Friday night.

Already dealing with center Brook Lopez's prolonged injury absence, New Jersey (1-6) was without point guard Deron Williams (ribs) and power forward Kris Humphries (sprained left shoulder) during an 89-70 loss at Boston on Wednesday.

The status of Williams and Humphries for Friday is uncertain.

The Nets, outscored by an average of 18.0 points since a season-opening 90-84 win at Washington, could also be without promising rookie MarShon Brooks. Making his first start, Brooks scored 15 of his 17 points before halftime Wednesday but was slowed over the final two quarters after hurting his left ankle in the second period.

Though X-rays were negative, Brooks' status is uncertain. He's scored at least 17 points in five of his last six games.

"He had an awfully good first half for us. He showed how explosive he is offensively and I think since he kind of tweaked it in the first and it took a lot of his energy in the second half," coach Avery Johnson said. "He tried to play through it."

The Nets, shooting a NBA-worst 38.7 percent from the floor, could struggle to get going versus the Raptors (3-3). Toronto is surrendering 91.5 points per game while holding opponents to 39.8 percent shooting - best in the league.

"Believe me, we're nowhere near where we need to be," first-year coach Dwane Casey said. "Defensively we're making strides. We're thinking defensively and thinking in terms of getting stops, which is a part of the culture change.

"We're playing playoff style basketball. Whether we're a playoff team or not, I venture to say we're not right now ... But we're playing the style of defense that it takes to play in the playoffs."

The Raptors' defensive prowess was on display in a 92-77 win over Cleveland on Wednesday. Toronto held the Cavaliers to a season-low point total and limited them to 29.6 percent from the field - the lowest mark by an opponent in more than two years.

Andrea Bargnani, averaging a team-best 24.0 points, scored a season-high 31 and shot 11 of 16 while DeMar DeRozan had a season-high 25.

DeRozan, who spent the offseason working on his shot, went 5 of 8 from 3-point range. He's gone 10 of 16 from beyond the arc this season after a 5-for-52 performance in 2010-11.

"It's showing me that my hard work is paying off," he said.

"That's the one thing the team and I wanted to accomplish coming in this season, being able to do that, not just for myself but for my teammates so we can get easy buckets."

Toronto, which also prevailed 90-85 at New York on Monday, hasn't won three straight since a four-game run Nov. 17-24, 2010.

The Raptors have taken eight of 10 home meetings with New Jersey.

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