The Raptors continue a sneaky tough five game Western road swing tonight, with a back to back against the team with the most wins in the Association, the 12-2 Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers have been great so far this season, dominating on defense and riding their Big Three. They generally look like they want to put the Blake Griffin-centric ugliness of last year behind them. Daniel Reynolds wrote your game preview, which gives a good indication of how legit LA has looked (hint: very).
Just as an exercise, I was trying to poke holes in them, and the best thing I could come up with is that they haven't played a very tough schedule. They've had more home games than road (9-6 after tonight) and other than the Spurs, haven't really played anyone of real consequence, depending on how you feel about the Blazers. The thing is, if you want to call the Spurs and Blazers their toughest games, those seem like the ones where they came up biggest, absolutely whipping both teams -- San Antonio fell 116-92 and Portland 111-80. They can only play the teams put in front of them, right?
Their two losses on the season have come against Oklahoma City and Memphis, which might bode somewhat well for Toronto -- both teams have dynamic point guards and offensively minded big men (sound familiar?). Despite Chris Paul's defensive prowess, Mike Conley and Russell Westbrook have feasted against LA this season, and big men Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Enes Kanter have put up impressive lines as well.
Look for Toronto to rely on the Jonas Valanciunas-Kyle Lowry combo as much as possible tonight, especially with DeMar DeRozan looking a bit gassed the past two games. DeRozan's usage rate dropped to 22.2% as he struggled last night, against his whopping 36.3% rate on the season, while Lowry's rose to 34.9%.
Three things worth watching:
3. Norman Powell is expected to get the start at small forward with DeMarre Carroll (rest) expected to sit out the second half of the back to back. It's a shame, as Carroll had his best game of the season against Sacramento, not just shooting-wise, but all over the court. Despite a misleadingly poor net rating, he played with an energy and presence that has often been missing from his game as he's recovered from knee surgery. It was nice to see he's still got it, and that his rehabilitation is starting to pay dividends.
2. The man known as 2Pat had a good night against the Kings, playing his usual excellent defense, and burying 3-of-6 looks from deep. Hopefully his shooting stroke is turning the corner, but his defense will be key against Griffin tonight.
1. The play of Cory Joseph continues to be the biggest wart on this Raptors season -- after being such a steady hand for the second unit last season, his play has been sloppy and ineffective all year long. He was just slightly better last night, though he still managed as many turnovers as assists (2), and was only 1-5 from the field. The best thing was that he didn't actively damage the result on the whole, playing to an even 0 net rating. Not high praise. It would be huge for the Raptors if he could begin to right the ship, and enable them to give Lowry and DeRozan more rest, even in short spurts.
This would be a big one for Toronto to take, so get the coffee on and take all the amphetamines you can find. It's a 10:30 start!
Get after it in the comments.