It’s wild to remember that the Raptors have actually won their last four contests against the Los Angeles Clippers. This, even though the Clips have often been a formidable team, anchored by All-Star calibre players in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It’s what we’re hanging on to right now as the Raptors list out of Sacramento in ugly defeat.
It continues to be a rough week for the Raptors. They are now set to play their fifth game in seven nights — a stretch in which they’ve got 1-3 so far — and they’re only halfway through a five-game road trip. The Nuggets win from Friday night was stressful. The Kings loss from last night was stressful (and infuriating). And now the Clippers, who are 12-2 and look like world beaters, are on the horizon. A win tonight would be huge but, guess what, I suspect it will also be stressful.
Here are three things to watch for the game tonight.
The Clippers Are Legit
This is perhaps not a shocking statement, given the mid- to upper-mid tier the Clippers have occupied the last few seasons, but it definitely applies now. The Clippers are currently the best team in the NBA. They’re ahead of Cleveland, ahead of the Warriors, and ahead, naturally, of the Raptors.
How did this happen? For one: the Clippers’ defense has been awesome. LA is second in the league (behind the Hawks) with a defensive rating of 96.5 (points allowed per 100 possessions). And as if that wasn’t enough, they also have a league-leading net rating of +13.8 owing to their high-powered offense of 110.4 (second only to the Warriors).
We know mostly how this happens. Paul, still the smartest point guard around, is the team’s leader, dictating play and tempo. Griffin, the team’s catalyst, has returned from an injury and scandal-plagued year to ignite his team (while averaging 21.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game). And Jordan has evolved into a fearsome defensive presence at the rim. Match this trio with a bench corps that isn’t overtly terrible and you’ve got some winning basketball. This could be a tough one for the Raptors.
The Raptors Offense is... good?
According to the same stat readings applied to the Clippers, the Raptors have the third best offense in the league with a rating of 109.4. I mean, yes, this is the objective truth, but having watched this team for the past 13 games, I must say: it feels incredibly laboured.
For tonight’s game, the issues with the Raptors offense are easy to define. First, can they rely on their outside shooters to actually hit outside shots? DeMarre Carroll showed signs of life last night, along with Patrick Patterson, after both went 3-for-6 from deep against the Kings. Terrence Ross also continues to be a hero. This is good.
Second, the Raptors big three (as it were) is left to sort out. I’m of the opinion that Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul will mostly play each other to a standstill. Jonas Valanciunas matching up with Jordan is one that actually favours JV a bit, given his methodical game and the limits to Jordan’s. And then we have to wonder which version of DeMar DeRozan we’ll see tonight. Perhaps Luc Mbah a Moute can limit him, perhaps Austin Rivers can challenge him, but perhaps DeRozan gets back to hitting every second shot he takes. I literally have no idea what to expect after last night’s debacle from him.
Just keep telling yourself: the Raptors offense is good. The Raptors offense is good. The Raptors offense is good.
Living and Dying with DeMar DeRozan
I just looked this up because I wanted to know for a fact how DeRozan had done in last night’s second half. Ready for this line? Here goes: three points (on 3-of-3 from the FT line), 0-of-8 from the field, two turnovers, four rebounds, three assists. This, with Rudy Gay on him, the exact type of long bodied wing that continues to bedevil DeRozan.
Yes, he had a bad game, these things happen, no one is perfect. But oof, if we weren’t already certain of it, now we know: when DeRozan has a bad game, one as demonstrably bad as last night, the Raptors and their third place offense don’t look so hot. And what’s most frustrating about it is that the team has other options — namely Jonas Valanciunas (who got his shots in the second half, but only four points vs. 17 in the first) — to alleviate the pressure.
This seems to be something of a trend, even with the Raptors winning more often than they’re losing. I mention it here because, well, there’s a good chance it will happen again tonight. The Clippers are a smart team playing with the same high-level of continuity that the Raptors share. They know their game plan, and presumably know how to take the Raptors out of theirs. It will be interesting to see how DeRozan — who can be pressured out of his comfort zone — responds to Sunday night’s disaster. Let’s watch.
Where to Watch: TSN 2 at 10:30pm