Today at the ACC, the Toronto Raptors will do their best to slow the roll of a team in the midst of one of the best stretches in basketball history. This Warriors club, the one that's scoring roughly 115 points per game and shooting 43% from three--as a team--might still have some doubters somewhere, but they probably can't read this because they have their heads dunked in Charles Barkley's gravy-filled hot tub.
The last time these teams met, the Warriors had one of their closest calls of the season, squeaking out a 115-110 win on the back of some sloppy Raptors play and some generous calls by the officials.
Just in case you were wondering, a team has never started a season on a 20 game win streak before. Thirty-three straight wins is the overall record, set by the 1971-72 Lakers. If the Warriors keep it going, they'll play the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, to tie that record. Sweet fancy Moses.
How can Toronto can be the fly in ointment? Here are your keys to the game.
Calm, Cool, Collected
The last contest between these two teams was a wild one. The teams combined for 38 turnovers, and if you were watching the game, there was never a sense that either team was completely comfortable. It was unadulterated chaos. Here's the thing though: the Warriors live for chaos. They love pushing teams out of their comfort zones and then dissecting them with precision passing and lethal shooting. They thrive by putting constant pressure on the ball in unconventional ways; Steph Curry is by no means an All-NBA defender, but he's become smarter about gambling for steals. He currently ranks 2nd in the NBA, behind the Raptors own Kyle Lowry.
If Toronto wants to win this game, they're going to need to take care of the ball and make the most of the turnovers they generate. They're currently tied for 28th in the league in assists per game (18.0), which puts them 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.31). That means they're working very hard for the offense that they're creating and can't afford to give away possessions. The Warriors actually turn the ball over a fair bit, ranking 25th in the NBA at 16 per game. However, they also lead the league in assists per game (29.5) and on the back of that, assist-to-turnover ratio (1.85). They play a high risk, high reward style, one that gives their opponent opportunities to hurt them. They've just been so efficient that it hasn't mattered. Toronto will have to be hyper-alert and keep the game under control, if they want to have a fighting chance.
Oh Bebe, Bebe
Could Lucas Nogueira be a key to the game for Toronto? Well, maybe. He's been a nice breath of fresh air the past two games, helping the Raptors steal a victory in Atlanta and being one of the few bright spots in a putrid game against Denver. His length and quick feet could help in the unending rotations required to guard the Warriors machine. I do worry that he might get pump faked so hard that he'll fall right out of that wig he is clearly wearing, but live and learn. (Amirite?)
Last time these teams played, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll all played over 38 minutes. Yes it's a big game against the biggest of opponents, but they need some help. The Raptors bench, seven through nine, needs to get it going. Cory Joseph has been tremendous, but the entire secondary load cannot keep falling entirely to him. Postman Pat has been a little bit better recently, but his contributions still waver from game to game. Terrence Ross has been brutal, struggling with just about every aspect of his game. James Johnson, who may or may not owe Dwane Casey money, has been nailed to the bench to the point that it's baffling even to those who think the vitriol about his playing time is overstated. And I mean, that's it. That's your team. Unless Anthony Bennett is somehow going to crack the rotation and get things going, these are the guys that need to start producing. There's no better time than now.
Start Me Up
Speaking of the bench, Coach Casey hinted that he may try a new starting lineup, if not today, then sometime in the near future. It makes sense, given that Toronto keeps laying stink bombs in the first quarter. Popular speculation (and the most linear move) has Patrick Patterson jumping into the starting line-up in place of Luis Scola. With Harrison Barnes out for Golden State, this move would certainly make sense. Brandon Rush has started the past four game in his stead, and while he brings quickness and effort, he lacks Barnes ability to close out on perimeter shooters.
A more unconventional solution might also work, at least until Jonas Valanciunas returns. The Raptors top nine lineups in terms of plus-minus this year include the man known as CoJo. The best of these features Joseph, Lowry and Derozan, with DeMarre Carroll at the four and Luis Scola at center. That 5 man unit is a plus 27 in only 20 minutes together. I'm not a math guy, but that sounds like the best lineup in the history of the NBA. Get it going, Case!
Where to Watch: TSN4, 5:00pm EST