Toronto -- So I busted tail up here to T.O. after the Cavs took care of business in the lower 48 to watch what I thought was going to be a closeout game last night between the Raptors and Nets. Turned out the Raps weren't quite yet ready to go, and they barely held off the Nets. That actually helps the Cavs in the short run, now whomever they play will probably have just one day to travel and get some sort of preparation for the Cavs. If the Nets win Friday it will probably be a Sunday afternoon game in Cleveland, which means Jersey won't even get a shootaround in Cleveland to get comfortable.
I spent some time talking with Nets and Raptors players before the game. After watching, I am supremely confident the Nets will end up closing this out sooner or later. Although I didn't directly bring up the Cavs with the Nets, that is frowned upon at this point, I asked some leading questions. Basically, the Nets feel like they can beat about anyone right now and they may not be wrong on that point. They certainly underachieved this season, but when the Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd all decided to play they have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. In fact, after watching Miami's display in the playoffs, they are probably in fairness the fourth best team. But they are all a little dejected they didn't finish the job last night.
Watching the game Tuesday and the other games in this series, I believe the biggest challenge the Cavs will have is keeping out the penetrators on defense. If the Nets prevail, Larry Hughes is going to have his hands full with Jason Kidd, who is playing great. It's very bad news for Sasha Pavlovic, who may not get a whole lot of playing time unless he picks his offense up and fast. He couldn't stay out of foul trouble defending DeShawn Stevenson, now he'll get Vince Carter. In fact, what I think you'll see a lot is Eric Snow guarding Carter and Kidd, switching off with Hughes on those assignments. Also, Daniel Gibson may get some more minutes in this series after he showed good poise against the Wizards.
However, the Nets face the same problem as the Wizards, their interior defense is not big, deep or very strong. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden continue playing the way they have, it will be very difficult for the Nets to control the Cavs at the other end. Also, as LeBron James showed the last time these teams played on April 10 (the start of the Cavs' eight-game win streak) they have no answer to defending him when he gets low post position. Jefferson virtually waved a white flag that night. We'll see if LeBron takes heed, I'm sure the coaching staff will remind him.
Much more on all this later. One parting story, I spoke with former Cav Luke Jackson who has found a home in Toronto. He is already signed for next season after playing well down the stretch. He's also played well in limited playoff minutes. Jackson said he likes Toronto, especially unassuming star Chris Bosh, who treated the entire team to $5,000 Tag Heuer watches when they made the playoffs. So Before the game we are talking courtside and the Nets Cliff Robinson comes out to take pregame shooting. Jackson, a Trail Blazer fan as a kid growing up in Oregon, smiles at me and says: "I swear, I was the biggest Cliff Robinson fan when I was a kid. I used to pretend to be him when I played. I had a cup from Dairy Queen with his picture on it and I used to drink out of it every day."