TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors have their first post-season game since 2008 this Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.
The match-up wasn’t decided until the final seconds ticked down on the clock during Wednesday’s final games of the NBA regular season (Charlotte’s overtime win against Chicago sealed the Raptors fate as the No. 3 seed).
But questions are being raised whether the Raps first-round opponents threw the end of their season to ensure they faced Toronto in the playoffs.
The Raptors lost to the New York Knicks 95-92 after blowing a 21-point lead.
Brooklyn also played on Wednesday, head coach Jason Kidd deciding to give his top players a rest – sitting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston, aka “the world’s highest-paid cheerleading squad.”
The Nets 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers meant Brooklyn finished with the No. 6 seed in the east. A win would have clinched the No. 5 spot.
Speculation swirled that the Nets losses of late were orchestrated.
”Interestingly, the Nets seem to be tanking to move to six and avoid Chicago,” wrote CBS’ Matt Moore.
But Kidd insists they didn’t throw the game to avoid meeting the Chicago Bulls in the first round, and he’s not worried about heading into the playoffs on a losing note.
“It’s the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a new season. Everybody’s zero and zero. It’s the first one to four.”
But even if the Nets do indeed prefer to meet up with Toronto in the first round, are they going to face an easier road than against Chicago?
“If this is the series Brooklyn wants, they might be in for a bit of a disappointment. By the numbers, Toronto has been the best team of the three. They have been by far the most balanced team, finishing in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency,” wrote Joe Flynn on The Bleacher Report.
Brooklyn is vastly more experienced than Toronto in the playoffs, but experience doesn’t guarantee a triumph over a young Toronto team who’s record since trading star player Rudy Gay in December leads the Eastern Conference.
“If the Nets are going to beat the Raptors four out of seven times, it will likely be because they’re simply better than the Raptors, not because their added experience magically renders Toronto useless,” wrote Joseph Casciaro on Thursday.
“We know we can beat them. We beat them twice this year, and we beat ’em once without me playing. We’re all excited,” said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan on Wednesday.
“This is huge. When I first got here that was one of my biggest goals, to get this team back to the playoffs and I’m happy to be there,”said Kyle Lowry, who scored 22 points in 26 minutes during Wednesday’s game. “But, I’m not satisfied. I want to make some noise and show that we’re a good team.”
The Raptors best weapon – beyond Lowry, DeRozan and Terrence Ross – could be that no one is expecting them to win.
With files from The Associated Press