The Nets return to Toronto on Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre for the first time since Feb. 8, 2020, which was barely a month before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and forced the NBA to suspend that season for several months. Because of travel restrictions between the United States and Canada last season, the Raptors played all their “home” games in Tampa.
But coming off their victory Friday night in Detroit, where the Nets (6-3) extended their winning streak to four games, Kevin Durant and James Harden made it clear they welcome their return to north of the border.
“I’m excited,” Harden said. “They’ve got one of the best fan bases, so it’s going to be exciting there. They’re a scrappy team. We can’t take anybody for granted. Every game, we approach it like we’re focused on ourselves and we’ve got to get the best out of ourselves every single night.
“We didn’t finish the game like we needed to [Friday night], which is a little disappointing, but we won the game. So that’s what matters. We’ve got to continue. It’s a long road trip and we’ve got to take it game by game.”
Harden was referring to the fact the Nets allowed a 16-point lead over the Pistons slip to one point with barely two minutes left to play before Durant took over and closed out the win with three critical baskets down the stretch. That allowed the Nets to get their season-high six-game road trip off on a positive note.
“I’m excited that Toronto is open again and that they’ve got their team back,” Durant said. “It was a rough year for them being in Tampa and moving the organization. So it’s exciting that we get to go up there and play again.
“That’s a unique fan base and you know they’re going to be on their feet all game and giving their team some energy. It’s going to be a nice test for us. That is a good team.”
The Raptors (6-4) went from winning the NBA title in 2019 when the playoffs were completed in the “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando to a 27-45 record last season in Tampa. They are back in playoff contention this season behind Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam will be making his season debut.
The key to the Nets’ recent winning streak is an improved defense that has held three of the past four opponents to fewer than 100 points. “I’m proud of the guys,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “I think our defense is ahead of our offense, which I don’t think anyone was predicting coming into the year. But that makes me happy, and I think our guys can feel a sense of pride in each other that they’re defending.”
Greg Logan has worked for Newsday since 1982 covering a wide array of sports and events, currently including the Brooklyn Nets beat.