The Raptors are off to a healthy start, 3-0, although the strength of competition has left some a little weary. Most are holding off on taking a stand on the potential for the Atlantic division champions, after how last season went down (in flames).
The first real test will be the Raps upcoming road swing, 10 of 12 games away from the ACC. They’ll face three playoff calibre teams from last season (Dallas, GSW, and the Clippers), plus OKC who won 45 games and have Kevin Durant back.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, back to the task at hand, overcoming a Mavs team that is 2-1 and has had Toronto’s number. 13-24 lifetime for Dallas; 9-9 at the ACC and 4-15 at the American Airlines Centre. The Raptors haven’t won a road game in Dallas since December 20th, 2013.
If Toronto wins Tuesday, it’ll be the franchises first 4-0 start, and for Dallas they’re looking to start their fourth year in a row with a home opener victory.
Things to Look For:
Big Play Inside
Between points in the paint and rebounding the Raptors have managed for their interior game to contribute to wins. The team has the advantage, and needs to keep it that way. They holding a rebounding advantage of 12.7 boards per game and are +16 in points in the paint as well.
Additionally a +38 (149-to-111) rebounding differential is something that the team lacked last year and Jonas Valanciunas is leading the way with (33).
Last year Toronto was 19th in the NBA in offensive rebounds allowed, while also being 26th in total team boards (41.1) reverting back will not keep Dwane Casey in his position for long, through no fault of his own.
When things aren't going well how will the Raptors respond? So far they've been rolling on offence, averaging 44.8 FG% and 42 3PT%, but Dallas will be their first real test as their defence has been good.
As Dirk Nowitzki put it, "I thought we were really decent defensively." Like the Raptors, the Mavs haven’t exactly faced the cream of the crop this season, with wins against the Lakers and Phoenix, while falling 104-88 to the Clippers, but they've been making opposing offences work. Through three games they've held opponents to 39.8 percent and 27 percent from long range.
Key cogs in opponents offensive strategies were rendered subpar; Kobe Bryant was 3-15 and Julius Randle 9-17 on the night for a team high 22 points; Brandon Knight had a team high 15 for Phoenix and Eric Bledsoe went 4-12; Chris Paul had 6 points (granted in limited minutes), and Blake Griffin has the highest points total against Dallas so far this season, with 26. However, the Clippers shot 3.6% less then their season average last year (43.7% compared to 47.3 in 2014-15).
With Dallas winning both meetings against the Raptors last season and holding DeRozan to 7-of-29 shooting and 9.0 points per game, while Lowry averaged 18 points per game, but 11 on the road they Raptors need their guards to break through the defensive wall, show some creativity and gumption should the Mavs stifle them in the beginning.
Contributions for Every Corner if the Floor
The Raptors haven’t gone 4-0 since 2008, and that year they lost 49 games. It’s not how you start but finish, and that not only goes for the season but each game, and this Raptors team needs to take things quarter by quarter.
After Sunday's 106-87 home win over the Bucks, Toronto has averaged a margin of victory of 12 points. Kyle Lowry (17.3 PTS, 7.3 AST, 5 REB, 3 STL) and DeMar DeRozan (21 PTS, 5.3 AST, 4.3 RB, 1.7 STL) have been the corner stones of the Raptors offence for a while now, but Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross who can be streaky are expected to bring something to the table every game.
Gone are the days when Ross can post a 30 minute, 4 point, 1 assist, 7 rebound performance like he did against Boston last April. Or more a more relevant a, 16.5 minute, 3 point, 1 assist performance in February against Dallas last year.
The Raptors shooting 42.0 percent from 3-point range is a good start thanks in part to Patterson, who’s 50% from beyond the arc (3.7-7.3 per game), but they need to prove they can navigate past a better team. If so, gone are the days of regular second half comebacks (or second half collapses), fans would hope.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 8:30pm EST