Nets remain a distant second to Raptors
First-Place Toronto Blows Past Brooklyn in Playoff Rematch
Undermanned and doubtlessly fatigued, the Brooklyn Nets were fine early but unable to stay up late with the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, suffering a 105-89 loss in front of 19,800 fans at the Air Canada Centre.
”We gave them a battle for three quarters and then we kind of fell apart,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins admitted after his injury-plagued unit fell to 10-14 and slipped nine games behind first-place Toronto in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title.
Brooklyn, which dropped its second straight, was without starting center Brook Lopez (back), forward Sergey Karasev (oblique) and veteran power forward Kevin Garnett, who took the night off after grabbing 10 rebounds in 21 minutes during Tuesday night’s 95-91 home loss to Miami.
The young, brash Raptors, who lost a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Nets in Toronto in the opening round of last year’s playoffs, had no mercy on their rivals, outscoring Brooklyn 18-5 to start the final period and 29-16 overall in the fourth quarter.
Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who had his bid for a potential game-winning layup blocked by Paul Pierce in Game 7, led a balanced Toronto attack with 20 points and 12 assists.
Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Patrick Patterson scored 13 points off the bench for the Raptors, who improved to 20-6, and got at least a measure of revenge for being sent home early by Brooklyn last season.
”That Game 7 was definitely on my mind from the time I woke up this morning to even now,” Patterson confessed. ”I’m definitely happy that we won the game, that we handled our business out there. It was a bit of revenge in my eyes.”
The bright spot for Brooklyn in its latest loss was the continued emergence of second-year center Mason Plumlee, who scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds in place of the injured Lopez.
In his last four games, Plumlee is averaging just over 18 points and 10 rebounds, perhaps opening the door to the possibility that the Nets have their center of the future in place in case they see an opportunity to deal Lopez, who has missed significant playing time in three of the last four seasons.
Plumlee refused to use injuries or the Nets’ quick turnaround after hosting the Heat at the Barclays Center Tuesday night as an excuse for Brooklyn’s 11th loss in 12 games this season against a team with a winning record
”A lot of mistakes, turnovers and defensive breakdowns,” he said. ”I don’t think it was being tired or anything.”
The Nets, who are still safely ahead of last season’s disastrous 10-21 start under Jason Kidd, will head to Cleveland for a showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday before returning to Brooklyn to host Detroit on Sunday evening.
A franchise that retains the highest payroll in the sport is clearly still searching for its identity under a first-year head coach, the fourth the Nets have had in less than three seasons in our fair borough.
“New coach, new style of play, different systems,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey told the Toronto Sun when asked why the Nets were struggling out of the gate for the third straight year.
“It takes time,” he added. “That’s one thing all of us don’t really have a lot of is patience and time. We are all guilty of it. I’m guilty of it. Fans are guilty of it. It just takes time for things to work out.”
With 58 regular-season games to go, the Nets certainly have plenty of time to work things out.
But as nagging injuries mount and lineups continue to be shuffled, it’s hard to imagine it working out any better than a seventh or eighth seed in the East, and an early playoff ouster.
That’s if they’re fortunate.
Nothing But Net: F Mirza Teletovic, starting in place of Garnett, had 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting against Toronto, but admitted he is still favoring or at least protecting the hip injury that forced him to miss the Nets’ back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Charlotte last weekend. … G Joe Johnson scored 17 points but missed three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt as the Toronto crowd chanted “Brooklyn Sucks!”, something Nets fans might want to remember when the Raptors visit the Barclays Center on Jan. 30. … The Nets went a dismal 10-of-22 from the line Wednesday, with Plumlee putting up a 5-of-11 effort. … It was “Drake Night” in Toronto on Wednesday as the Canadian rapper enjoyed watching his Raptors beat the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. ”If there’s anybody I want to beat, it’s the Nets,” Drake noted.
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