Game No. 43: Nets 98, Raptors 84

As Scott mentioned in his pre-game thread, the Nets have been decimated by injuries, and as I mentioned earlier today, if Dwight Howard is out of the short term plans, the Nets may be on the cusp of a monumental tank-job.

The Raptors looked like the team playing for pride in the first half, outhustling and easily outplaying the shorthanded Nets. The second half was a different story, however, as the Raps came out of the break flat and seemed like a defeated club over the last 24 minutes, being outscored 58-39 in the second half.

Now here are some thoughts on the game.

1- I refuse to give in to the notion that the Raptors were simply fatigued on the back end of a back-to-back roadie. The Nets were severely undermanned for this game, were playing in front of a dead crowd and looked to be on the ropes in the first half. Instead of capitalizing, most of the players in black just seemed to quit, almost as if they were content with a game and a half of solid basketball. On the “bright” side, we won’t have to worry about the tank and subsequent lottery position with efforts like this.

2- Aside from the aforementioned second half effort, or lack thereof, if you want to pinpoint a major factor in how this game ended up in loss no. 29 for the Raptors, look no further than the bench. You will rarely see one team’s bench absolutely torch the opposition’s bench like the Nets did tonight, outscoring Toronto’s reserves 61-24. Yes, you read that correctly, New Jersey’s bench outscored Toronto’s bench by 37 points. Gerald Green (26) outscored the Raptors’ bench on his own.

3- The one consistent effort the Raptors got tonight was from Jerryd Bayless, who was solid in Jose Calderon’s absence once again. Bayless managed this game as well as he could from the point. He dished out eight assists and took just two shots in the first half, but when the Raps’ offence sputtered in the second half, Bayless became a scorer, going five-of-nine from the field and consistently attacking the basket en route to 14 second half points. Bayless finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists compared to only two turnovers. In the three games since Jose Calderon rolled his ankle, Bayless has averaged 17.3 points on over 50 per cent shooting to go with 7.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds while committing just two turnovers per game. You can’t ask for much more than that from your usual backup point guard.

4- After looking like he was ready to find his groove again on Tuesday night in Cleveland, Andrea Bargnani struggled mightily and looked asleep for most of Wednesday night in New Jersey. He never looked comfortable in this game, and the final statline proved it, as Bargnani finished with 10 points on four-of-13 shooting and grabbed just two rebounds. We had to expect there would be some lingering rust considering Andrea has played just six of 32 games over a seven week span.

5- A few words on the Nets. Outside of the Cavs during the whole ‘Decision’ saga, has any other team ever faced such an all or nothing situation like the Nets face right now? On one hand, they are seen as favourites to land Dwight Howard, partner him with Deron Williams and take over the basketball world from their new home in Brooklyn. On the other hand, if they don’t acquire Howard, they also lose Williams, and end up moving into the Knicks’ city with absolutely nothing to build with going forward, aside from a 2012 draft pick and role players. It’s basically the difference between being an immediate contender or being the equivalent of an expansion team.

6- I knew that with the Knicks sputtering and the bottom half of the Eastern Conference still very weak, a few losing teams would look like playoff contenders for the time being. But I didn’t realize how much of a joke the East playoff race was until the Raptors, at 14-28, moved to within four games of eighth place with their win in Cleveland on Tuesday night. I’m on the record as a card carrying member of Tank Nation (though I want the Raptors to remain competitive, lose with dignity, throw in some upsets here and there and show me some positive signs for next season), but I still expect the players to shoot for W’s every time they step on the floor.

I was extremely interested to see how the Raptors would approach this game, as they had to realize that they could close the gap with the Cavs and Bucks playing each other tonight. Suffice to say, while they looked good to start the game, the second half effort was beyond disappointing. Again, it’s not that I want the team to make a pointless run for the eighth seed, but I was hoping to see them play this like it was a meaningful game, because to them, it should have been.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 39 Min, 16 Pts, 6-11 FG, 0-1 3PT, 4-4 FT, 4 Reb, 10 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Nets Player of the Game: Kris Humphries – 38 Min, 16 Pts, 7-18 FG, 2-2 FT, 21 Reb, 3 Ast, 3 Stl, 3 Blk, 3 TO