Yes, Toronto is young, and Brooklyn... not as much. The Raptors outlasted the Nets for the Atlantic division, and they gave Brooklyn four of their toughest match ups of the season. But when the lights are the brightest, I think this Nets team will come into its own.
The acquisitions the Nets made in the offseason have made a second consecutive, first round ousting unacceptable. I believe that will motivate this group to advance. To me, the key to this series is the turnover game. Brooklyn has to force Toronto into coughing up the ball to balance out the rebounding inefficiencies the Nets have, and that starts with putting pressure on Toronto's young backcourt. As long as Brooklyn escapes Toronto with a split, they'll pull away in the middle games and advance for the first time since the New Jersey days.
Nets in six.
A lot is going to be made about the Raptors backcourt and the speed factor, and rightfully so. But experience is going to play a large role in the outcome of this series. All of those offseason acquisitions, specifically the massive draft night deal that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, were for this very reason. Many times, a Game 7, regardless of the venue, comes down to experience and the Nets have a lot more in this match up.
Nets in seven.
Despite having home court advantage, I'm picking the Nets, though I do so with trepidation and uncertainty. At the end of the day, I expect the collective experience to help Brooklyn prevail. The Nets became the Eastern Conference's best team once the calendar flipped to 2014 and the emergence of Shaun Livingston, Mason Plumlee and Alan Anderson have made them one of the league's deepest, as well. And even though Pierce, Garnett, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Andrei Kirilenko have never played in a playoff series together, they have each had significant playoff success over their long, storied careers, the same cannot be said for the Raptors.
Aside from health, what the Nets really need Deron Williams to match the output of Kyle Lowry. On the interior, Garnett and Plumlee will need to match the hustle and muscle of Amir Johnson and one of the league's more underrated young big men in Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors are certainly capable of winning this series, but based on who the Nets have become over the past few months, their depth and their experience advantage, I'm thinking that the Nets will get their crack at the Heat come Round 2.
Nets in six.
Just like Brooklyn, Toronto has played great ball over the last few months, and with the Raptors holding home court for this series, I think it'll be an entertaining series that goes the full seven games. The Nets need Garnett healthy, as Valanciunas had a tremendous season inside for the Raptors. Having the veteran big man healthy gives the Nets another element in the versatile attack, while Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche could give them some offensive presence in the paint as well. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can score, but if the Nets can continue their defensive pace, (9.6 steals per game and 16.7 turnovers forced per game since January 1), they should be able to keep the Raptors offense in check and come away with a series victory. The last thing the Nets can afford to do is look ahead to the second round and let this series slip away, but with this veteran group, I doubt that'll happen.