If you’re part of the contingent of Toronto Raptors fans that is completely discouraged by the team’s 116-112 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night and the idea that the Raps might never beat the Cavs in a playoff series, let’s focus on a few positives:
- The Raptors are still 14-7 and the current 2-seed in the Eastern Conference with a two game lead on the Boston Celtics.
- They have the third-best average margin of victory in the NBA at 8.10.
- Their 116.1 offensive rating is still on pace to be the second-best in league history, trailing only this year’s Golden State Warriors.
- Their 107.6 defensive rating is improving and now sits in the middle of the pack (16th in the Association) after bottoming out at 25th early last week.
Most of all, They face the 6-15 Minnesota Timberwolves tonight, a team that is 3-8 on the road this season and losers of eight of their last 10 contests.
If you want a palette cleanser and a reminder of just how good this Raptors team actually is (even if they, you know, don’t have LeBron James), this is a good place to start. It also doesn’t hurt that five of Toronto’s next seven opponents have records south of .500.
This is also one of the Raptors’ six nationally televised games in the US this season, as it’s airing on TNT. If you enjoy the national media microscope being on your favourite team or get a chuckle out of Charles Barkley continually butchering the pronunciation of Jonas Valanciunas, tonight should be a fun night for you.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in this one:
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of, if not the, best young rosters in the NBA right now. Whether or not this game ends up being competitive, it’s always entertaining to see bright young stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (the last two Rookie of the Year recipients) in action.
Throw in other talented youngsters like Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and round it all out with the slick passing of Ricky Rubio and the all-around underrated game of Gorgui Dieng, and you’ve got one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch.
That said, they are tied for 26th in the NBA in win-loss percentage (.286) and the Raptors should wipe the floor with them.
If the Timberwolves manage to make this one competitive, it will almost certainly be because of rebounding. These two teams average the exact same number of total rebounds per game at 42.2, but where they get those rebounds is fairly significant.
The Raptors are 26th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage at 74.5%, while the Timberwolves are fourth in the Association in offensive rebound percentage at 27.0%. By extension, the Wolves are also fifth in the league in second chance points per game with 15.1.
If Minnesota hits the offensive glass hard enough and the Raptors don’t finish their defensive possessions with timely boards, the pesky young Wolves could hang around.
A Tale of Two Halves
If there’s one area in which the Minnesota Timberwolves let their inexperience show, it’s in how they close out games.
If you looked at the NBA team rankings for net rating (points scored minus points allowed per 100 possessions) based on first halves alone, you’d think the Timberwolves were one of the best teams in the entire league:
First Half Net Rating
1) Golden State Warriors: 17.3
2) Los Angeles Clippers: 17.1
3) Cleveland Cavaliers: 10.2
4) Toronto Raptors: 9.6
5) Minnesota Timberwolves: 9.3
But then, if you looked at the rankings for net rating in the second halves of games, you’d understand why the Timberwolves have only managed a record of 6-15, despite the fact that they seem to regularly dominate at the beginning of games:
Second Half Net Rating
Considering the fact that the Raptors rank third in the NBA in second half net rating (9.6, behind the Boston Celtics at 10.6 and the Golden State Warriors at 10.4), this game has close first half, second-half blowout written all over it.
Tune in to find out. Here’s how:
Where to Watch: TNT (US) or TSN1/4/5 (Canada), 7:00 p.m. EST