Originally Published: January 27, 2014

1. Raptors Not Sinking In The Low-Tide Atlantic

By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK - Jason Kidd says it's too early to get caught up in the Atlantic Division standings and who's in first place in late January.

And yet on Monday night, the normally stoic Brooklyn Nets coach was as emotional on the sideline in the final seconds of a Nets-Raptors game as if he were sticking daggers against the Boston Celtics in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals again.

When Deron Williams drew a charge off Kyle Lowry with 19.8 seconds left, Kidd went full-on Tiger Woods with a swooping fist pump while the Toronto Raptors' Dwane Casey lost his mind down the sideline.

Make no mistake, Kidd, who made a Hall of Fame career on always looking two steps ahead, knew that Monday night's clash between the Raptors and Nets carried more weight than your average middle-of-the-season game. Both teams played like the division was on the line.

Kyle Lowry
Timothy A. Clary/Getty ImagesKyle Lowry (31 points) kept his team above everything in the Atlantic, sending the red-hot Nets to defeat.

The Nets have been the hottest team in the NBA in 2014, beating everybody in their path except for one team in the New Year - the Raptors.

Toronto, playing without injured DeMar DeRozan, made a statement in Brooklyn, stunning the Nets with a steal off a Williams' inbound pass and a game-winning jumper by Patrick Patterson with 6 seconds left to steal a 104-103 win from Kidd's Nets.

The Nets (20-23) blew a three-point lead in the final 17 seconds and a chance to pull within a half game of the Raptors (23-21). For the second time in 2014, the Nets also watched a five-game winning streak end at the hands of the Raptors.

The Atlantic Division may be the weakest in the NBA. But if Monday's game was a preview of things to come, the Raptors are letting the Nets, and Knicks as well, know that they are going to put up a fight for the division title.

Winning the Atlantic is vital for the Nets and Knicks to have any chance of making noise in the postseason. Both teams have opened this season with extremely disappointing starts and are holding on to the hope of winning the division and earning at least a No. 4 seed.

Potentially making the playoffs as a 7- or 8-seed will be a first-round death sentence against Indiana or Miami. The Raptors apparently are going to do everything they can to spoil the Nets' and Knicks' division hopes.

When the season began, the Atlantic was supposed to be decided by the two New York teams. Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia were supposed to be more concerned with acquiring future assets and lottery pingpong balls.

But Casey has Toronto beginning to think playoffs.

"We want to be in the dance," Casey said before the Raptors' stirring win. "That wasn't our goal going into the season."

The Raptors are showing that they might just crash the big dance despite general manager Masai Ujiri giving the team a makeover by unloading Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay. Ujiri also still has a few weeks until the trading deadline to do some more maneuvering (see Lowry), which could change their immediate future.

But the Raptors are defying the odds for now. They are now 16-9 since trading Gay.

"We went into the season talking about developing a Jonas Valanciunas and getting him ready," Casey said. "Now it's [also about developing] Terrence Ross. ... For us having somewhat success, winning-wise, has been a plus, a step ahead of the process."

The Nets entered the season under a completely different mandate. Their championship clock began ticking the moment they traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett last summer. And their process has been stunning from their tumultuous start to their sudden turnaround in 2014.

Constructed to win it all, the Nets were 11 games under .500 after a New Year's Eve whipping in San Antonio. They looked like a team that was going to completely unravel with drama on the bench and in the locker room, and a slew of injuries threatening to shatter Mikhail Prokhorov's nearly $180-million-plus Faberge egg.

But since that 10-21 start, Garnett had the Nets make a New Year's resolution to turn the season around. Kidd managed to keep the team from falling apart and he continues to grow as the Nets have gone 10-2 since that San Antonio whipping.

Despite their latest setback to Toronto, the Nets still like where they stand with how they are playing.

Things can always change with an injury for the Nets or a trade with the Raptors. But on Monday, the Nets and Raptors played like they're going to be in a fight for the division no matter how much the Nets spend and how much the Raptors try to shed.

"We just want to be in the money at the end of the year," Casey said.

The Nets spent millions to win and the Raptors may very well make the Nets have to earn the Atlantic.

Dimes past: Jan. 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 26

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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