Nets ‘truly believe’ they can beat Raptors with NBA playoff matchup set

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With the Nets having gone 6-2 under interim coach Jacque Vaughn — with wins over the NBA’s top three title contenders — their confidence is sky-high.

High enough to think they can beat the defending champs, after Sunday’s win over the Clippers clinched the seventh seed in the East and a first-round date versus the Raptors.

“We know they’re a really good team. Obviously they’re playing good basketball, they move the ball really well, they’re a great defensive team, as well,” Caris LeVert said. “But for us, we feel like it’s about us. If we move the ball well, if we play good defense, if we’re locked into the game plan, we can win that series. We truly believe that. So we’re gonna go into that playoff matchup all the way locked in.”

LeVert had 27 points and a career-high 13 assists to lead the Nets to a 129-120 victory over the Clippers. Tyler Johnson added a season-high 21 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter as the Clippers tried to double team LeVert.

“As far as going into Toronto, you know what to expect. Then again, there’s no homecourt advantage. You’re playing a basketball team in the same spot for however many games it takes to advance,” Johnson said. “For us, it’s continue to play our style of basketball. At this point, we understand that, if we do that, we’re capable of beating anybody, and we showed it.”

Nets
Rodions Kurucs dunks against the ClippersGetty Images

The Nets have shown it by beating the Lakers in Los Angeles in their final game before the pandemic shutdown, Vaughn’s second after replacing Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets have been even better since, knocking off the NBA-leading Bucks on Tuesday despite being woefully shorthanded. Then they clinched seventh in the East by beating the Clippers. It was a masterclass by Vaughn, with Clippers assistant Ty Lue — expected to be among his competition for the permanent Nets job — on the opposing bench.

“To clinch seventh was big for us, obviously. We wanted to play whoever was going to be in that second spot, obviously it’s Toronto. We feel confident,” Garrett Temple said. “We’re confident. If we play the right way, if we play like we’ve been playing the last 2 or 3 games, share the ball, get stops, even though they turn people over, if we’re able to take care of it and do what we’ve been doing, we have a chance to win some games.”

“We’re not overlooking the next couple games, but we know who we’re going to play and we have a lot of time to actually get ready. JV and his crew are going to do what they do to get us ready for that series.”


The job Vaughn has done impressed his former mentor, Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

“I think he’s done a terrific job,” Rivers gushed. “Listen, I coached Jacque in Orlando. He played with me for an entire year, so I’m a big fan of his. He was one of those players — similar to Ty Lue and Sam [Cassell] — that you knew when they retired that they would be coaches. So I hope he gets a good shot here.”

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