San Antonio has transitioned away from the best player in franchise history with aplomb, rotating a carousel of capable veterans and Spurs-ian developed young players around stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Spurs are 27-7, and the longest serving member of the NBA cream with which Toronto seeks to rise. The Raptors are 0-6 this season versus the Cavaliers, Warriors and Clippers — a win in San Antonio tonight would go down as a signature one for this 2016-17 version of the squad.
Here are your keys to the game.
Pace and Efficiency
The Spurs are one of the few teams in the league that plays slower than the Raptors, averaging just 95.99 possessions per game, good for 26th in the NBA.
The Spurs attempt the second field goals of any team in the league (82.1) but are tied for the second highest percentage from the floor (47.4%). Their three point game is much the same, where they attempt the second lowest amount per game (22.0) but make the highest percentage (40.7%), the only team ahead of the Raptors (39.7%) in that category.
San Antonio likes to be deliberate, but that's the type of game Toronto excels at as well. It's going to come down to who can bend the other team to their will, and get the best looks — because looks will likely be at a premium.
A Reluctant Battle in the Paint
The place you'd think this Spurs team would miss Duncan most is as its defensive anchor defending the rim. Scorers Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee are not the type of men who inspire fear when teams get in close. Dewayne Dedmon does a decent job in this area, but plays just 14.7 minutes per game.
The funny thing is, the Spurs have done a solid job defending the paint, but haven't been able to score inside themselves. They're averaging just 39.3 points in the paint per 100 possessions, good for 26th in the NBA.
Toronto trends the other way, scoring the 9th most points in the paint per 100, while allowing teams to score inside at about a league average rate.
So the Raptors good paint offense will battle the Spurs equally good paint defense, while the Spurs reluctant paint offense will have to try to take advantage of Toronto's middling paint defense. It should make for an odd dance.
Turn It Over
These new-look Spurs are uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball. 14.1 turnovers per 100 possessions ranks them just below league average, which is something that you know makes efficiency-loving Coach Popovich tear his hair out. The Spurs are a bottom 10 team in fast break points allowed (per 100) as well, which is surprising. Taking care of the ball and transition defense are traditionally synonymous with the Spurs way of playing basketball.
Toronto is notoriously careful with the ball under Dwane Casey, giving up the second fewest turnovers so far this season, as well as the second fewest points of turnovers, so the disparity in this area could be where they try to take advantage of a Spurs team that is very good, but is maybe still ironing out of a few kinks.
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