The Nets had a troublesome common season. Their two greatest gamers, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, missed all or a lot of the season. Their extremely regarded coach, Kenny Atkinson, stepped down in March.Caris LeVert missed important time due to a thumb damage. Other key gamers, like Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan, didn’t make the journey to Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., for the N.B.A. restart after they examined constructive for the coronavirus. Another participant, Michael Beasley, was signed as a alternative solely to additionally take a look at constructive earlier than the restart, so he didn’t play both. Jamal Crawford, the veteran scorer, was signed for bubble depth — and his debut lasted all of six minutes due to a hamstring damage.It’s been that type of season for the Nets, who went 35-37 in the course of the common season. Even in what was imagined to be a bridge yr, this sort of tumult was sudden.And but, even with a skeleton crew in Florida, the Nets have been some of the spectacular groups contained in the bubble underneath Jacque Vaughn, their interim coach. And now, because the No. 7 seed, they’re set to play the No. 2-seeded Toronto Raptors, the defending champions, within the first spherical of the playoffs.The Nets went 5-Three within the seeding video games — a collection of eight video games to complete the common season. The final loss got here Thursday night time, when the Nets had nothing to play for with their seed locked in. Still, they nearly pulled out a win in an intense battle with a determined Portland Trail Blazers crew, which wanted the victory to make the playoffs. LeVert carried the Nets to the tune of 37 factors, and his last-second jumper rimmed out, permitting Portland followers to breathe a sigh of aid.Vaughn has the Nets taking part in exhausting and competing. But what is going to that imply in opposition to the champs?The CompetitionThe Raptors barely missed a beat this yr, despite the fact that Kawhi Leonard left in free company. The solely step again this season was on the offensive finish: Last yr, they had been sixth within the league in offensive effectivity. This yr, they fell to 13th. But the crew rode the league’s second-best protection to a different two seed.Pascal Siakam, a dynamic ahead in his fourth season, made his first All-Star sport and averaged profession highs in factors, rebounds and assists. Kyle Lowry, at 34 years outdated, put collectively probably the greatest seasons of his profession and made his sixth All-Star sport. Other gamers, like Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby broke out for profession years as effectively. Even Serge Ibaka, now in his 11th season, averaged a profession excessive in scoring (15.4). And even with the downturn in effectivity, the Raptors had been balanced offensively with six gamers averaging 10 or extra factors a sport.The Raptors will win if …ImageRaptors guard Kyle Lowry had one other All-Star season and has his crew poised to defend its title.Credit…Pool photograph by Ashley Landis1. They depend on their expertise benefit.Toronto has extra firepower than the Nets, each on the high and the underside of the roster. And it’s not expertise with a penchant for lethargy both. Coach Nick Nurse is adept at getting the crew to play exhausting. The Raptors are fourth within the N.B.A. in web ranking (basically the common of how a lot they win video games by).2. Their protection continues to thrive.The crew performed higher protection this yr than final yr, even after dropping probably the greatest defenders within the league in Leonard. In the bubble, the Raptors had the N.B.A.’s greatest protection getting into their final regular-season sport. It’s exhausting to get buckets on this crew, particularly with out an elite shotmaker.3. They keep wholesome.The Raptors don’t have any important accidents heading into the playoffs, apart from Patrick McCaw, a reserve ahead who left the bubble to obtain remedy on his knee.4. The Nets battle defensively.The Nets have been aggressive within the restart, however this iteration of the crew has not defended effectively, rating 17th out of the 22 bubble groups in protection as of Friday.The Nets win if …1. The Monstars steal Toronto’s expertise.Maybe your complete Raptors crew may oversleep and forfeit a number of video games. Or the Nets may put Flubber on the soles of their sneakers. I don’t know. You choose.But the underside line is that the Nets are — as one other New York establishment may say — “outgunned, outmanned.” Even with Irving taking part in, the Nets could be big underdogs on this collection. But lacking most of their greatest gamers? It could be one of many greatest upsets in N.B.A. playoff historical past if the Nets gained.Everything must go proper for the Nets on the identical time that all the things must go improper for Toronto. The Nets have little or no margin for error. But it’s a bizarre yr! (The Raptors, in fact, are accustomed to this state of affairs of bizarre issues taking place from final yr’s run: Leonard’s last-second shot that bounced in in opposition to the Philadelphia 76ers; the Warriors dropping a number of key gamers to damage.)2. Caris LeVert exhibits out.LeVert is an absolute expertise. There is probably going an All-Star sport in his future. He’s artful at attending to the rim. He’s troublesome to protect within the open flooring. He has even turn out to be a risk from deep, growing his 3-point share to 36 p.c this season from 32 p.c his rookie yr. And he has proven that he can take over video games.There is a world wherein LeVert performs like he did in opposition to Portland on Thursday night time all through a whole playoff collection, which might be harmful for Toronto. But LeVert’s major points in his four-year profession have been inconsistency and accidents.The Nets produce other established gamers who will must be one of the best variations of themselves to profit from a robust efficiency by LeVert: Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris. Allen had a strong season as a rim-running, shot-blocking dynamo, averaging nearly a double-double (11.1 factors, 9.6 rebounds) in solely 26.5 minutes a sport — all profession highs. He’s going to must be a presence on the basket on each ends.Same for Harris, the sharpshooter who averaged his profession greatest 14.5 factors a sport and shot 42 p.c from 3-point vary. Harris is the type of participant who can flip a sport single-handedly together with his taking pictures. The Nets will want a few these video games from him.3. The Raptors aren’t ready.The Nets have a number of gamers, corresponding to Chris Chiozza and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, who’ve taken on larger roles within the bubble. These are gamers who wouldn’t get a lot time usually, which additionally means scouting stories on them is perhaps incomplete. Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 24 factors in opposition to Orlando and 26 factors in opposition to Milwaukee in the course of the seeding video games, so it’s attainable the Nets may steal some video games simply by catching the Raptors off guard.4. Toronto can’t work out how you can rating.It’s a small pattern dimension, and the Raptors had been resting gamers. But within the seeding video games, Toronto had one of many league’s worst offenses. Only two groups had been worse: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards. The Nets, then again, had the N.B.A.’s eighth-best offense out of the 22 groups within the bubble going into Friday.