It continues to be a satisfying to consider the indignities that have befallen the teams who once stood in the Raptors’ way. The Miami Heat are a broken mess; the Indiana Pacers have their superstar but are fighting for relevancy; the Washington Wizards have a shallow team and stars who dislike each other. And the Brooklyn Nets, the original pains in the Raptors’ side? Bereft of real talent, down numerous draft picks in future drafts, they are almost literally hopeless.
Toronto, meanwhile, is setting records. They’ve exploded through a relatively tough early schedule and earned some impressive victories. They sit at 19-8 and still — still! — have not be blown out. Even the little issues with the team — the absence of Jared Sullinger, the Pascal Siakam question, the waning defense — feel like things that can and will be solved. Hope abounds.
So then, tonight’s game. Here are three things to consider as the Nets visit Toronto for the final home game of 2016.
But Seriously: the Defense
There was a moment in Sunday night’s game against Orlando when it was fair to be concerned. The Magic, one of the worst offensive teams in the league, hung 30 points on the Raptors in the first quarter, and a massive score seemed inevitable.
The Raptors turned it around though, holding the Magic to 49 points the rest of the way. Now, it’s easy to look good on defense against a team ranked 28th in offensive rating, but nevertheless the Raptors got it done. They were active in passing lanes, they packed the paint, they controlled the glass. It was the kind of performance we know this team is capable of more often than not.
So, let’s put it to the test: will the Raptors smother the Nets tonight? It’s worth watching to find out.
With Brook Out, Jonas Deserves a Look
To save Brook Lopez for the Nets’ upcoming back-to-back, Brooklyn is apparently opting to rest Lopez for tonight’s game. This is a comical turn of events, as Lopez is arguably the only player on the team (along with, let’s say, Jeremy Lin) to be appreciably dangerous to the Raptors.
With the big Lopez out, it’s definitely time for Jonas Valanciunas to run wild. In Sunday night’s Magic game, Valanciunas had a strong 16 point-13 rebound game (against his old buddy Bismack Biyombo no less!). Tonight he’ll probably face up against the likes of more old friends, e.g. Anthony Bennett and Luis Scola, and it would be a shock to see him not dominate.
Minutes Over/Under for the Stars
Games like this, in which it’s clear one team is far superior to the other, gets us looking at the minutes load for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Owing to the Raptors’ big time wins over low end competition as of late, Toronto’s star guards have managed to get down to the 30-32 range (with even some sub-30 minute outings for DeRozan) a few times. Coach Dwane Casey will tell you every team in the NBA is capable of beating you on any given night, but come on, the Nets stink.
It’s a small point but it bears mentioning: a game against the Nets, with their best player out, is the time to get as much rest for Lowry and DeRozan as possible. Will we see the two of them go all-out in the first half to put the game away? What kind of final minutes tally will we end up with.
I’m going to set the combined line at 62.5. What ya got?
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30pm