TORONTO - In a match-up between first and worst, the unexpected Atlantic Division-leading Raptors (6-7) host the disappointing Brooklyn Nets (3-10) at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
Watch the action live on TSN and listen on TSN 1050 Radio beginning at 7pm et/4pm pt.
The Raptors maintained their spot atop the Atlantic Friday after defeating the Wizards, 96-88, for their second win in a row.
Meanwhile, the Nets have been the NBA's biggest early-season surprise, coming into Tuesday's contest losers of five straight. After trading for future hall of famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the summer, the Nets - who are due to spend $190 million this season on salaries and luxury tax, an NBA-record payroll - were the obvious favourites in the division. Instead, they've struggled out of the gate and are just 1-7, allowing 104.8 points per game on the road prior to visiting Toronto.
"Believe me, Brooklyn's going to be okay," head coach Dwane Casey insisted. "They're going to bounce back. They're playing with injuries right now."
"I just hope and pray they don't get it together [against us]."
What's the importance of being an early-season division leader? TSN 1050's Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson weigh in and preview Tuesday's meeting with the Nets on this week's 'Raptors Report' podcast.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have been ruled out for Brooklyn, as both remain out with left ankle sprains. Williams has sat out four of the last five games while Lopez will miss his sixth straight.
With the Nets' all-stars sidelined, their new additions have struggled to pick up the slack. Pierce is scoring 13.0 points per contest on 38 per cent shooting and Garnett is averaging 6.5 points, connecting on 35 per cent of his field goal attempts, all career lows.
"They've just started slow," said Rudy Gay, who has been battling a bout of the flu that's been going around the Raptors' locker room. "I know they'll pick it up, we just have to take care of them before they do."
Toronto's offence continues to evolve after getting off to rough start. The Raptors averaged 92.3 points in their first six games of the season but have scored 102.3 per contest since. They have recorded 20 or more assists in back-to-back games after accomplishing that feat just once in their first 11.
"We're playing harder than our opponents," Gay said. "And no matter what shots go in, what plays work or not, not matter what they do, we play hard."
Trends and Tidbits
The Nets were victorious in three of four meetings with the Raptors last season but have lost six of their past eight visits to Toronto.
Toronto has won consecutive games during the month of November for the first time since 2010, when they team had a four-game winning streak.
Combined, the Atlantic Division has a record of 24-46.
What to Watch For
Control the pace
For the most part the Nets have been at the mercy of their opposition. Last in the league in defensive efficiency and fast-break scoring, Brooklyn has been unable to impose their will on either end of the floor.
They have been especially ineffective without their starting centre. The Nets have allowed over 113 points per 100 possessions in the five games Lopez has missed, according to NBA.com, and have allowed just 98.7 in the 244 minutes he has played.
Who comes to play in the third?
The Nets and the Raptors are two of the NBA's three worst third-quarter teams, in terms of point differential. Brooklyn has been outscored by a league-most 67 points in the third frame so far this season, while the Raptors - who have been a net positive in each of the other three quarters - are a minus-44 after the halftime break.
"We've got to meditate," DeMar DeRozan joked, searching for answers to solve his team's third-quarter dilemma. "Whatever we've got to do at halftime, we've got to do it. We've got to understand that's a critical point of the game."
Toronto has turned the ball over 59 times in the third and are allowing opponents to shoot 52 per cent. The Raptors were outscored 32-15 in the period before going on a fourth-quarter run during Friday's win, however the Nets were bested 34-15 after the break, which sealed their fate in Sunday's 109-97 loss to Detroit.
Who to Watch For
Quietly, DeRozan has bounced back after a slow start to the season and is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
After shooting 6-of-25 in a double overtime loss to Houston, the Raptors' guard is averaging 26.8 points, shooting 51 per cent from the field and 9-of-19 from three-point range in five games, three of which his team has won.
DeRozan tweaked an ankle twice in Friday's win over Washington but has been practicing in full and insists it won't be a problem for him going forward.
With Williams and Lopez sidelined and Pierce and Garnett struggling, Johnson has become the focal point of Brooklyn's offence.
The Nets' guard is coming off his best game of the season, scoring 34 points in Sunday's loss. Johnson's three-point shooting has been one of the lone bright spots for Brooklyn early in the year. He was 8-for-10 against Detroit and is now shooting 46 per cent from long distance on the season.
Gay, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough all participated in shoot around despite battling bouts of the flu. They're all expected to play Tuesday.
Williams and Lopez have been ruled out for the Nets, still nursing sprained ankles. Jason Terry (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back) haven't been practicing and are unlikely to be available against the Raptors.