After that ass-kicking at the hands of the Oklahoma City and the subsequent team meeting, the Raptors have looked like a completely different, cohesive unit. The turn defensively after the All-Star break has lifted the Raptors all the way into the top 10 in defensive rating, and 4th in the league in net rating. As we all anxiously await the return of Kyle Lowry, the fort is being held up just fine for the time being.
The Raptors now take on the Dallas Mavericks on the road — the same Mavericks they defeated 100-78 a couple of weeks back. It’s important to keep in mind that the Mavs didn’t have Nerlens Noel that day, and they’ve looked like a different team with him on the court:
Mavs are now 8-3 when Nerlens Noel plays and 7-0 when he plays 20+ minutes. Wins against Heat, Grizz, Thunder, Wizards, Clippers.— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) March 24, 2017
The Mavericks are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot and with 11 games left in their season, they have virtually nothing to play for at this point.
With that in mind, here are some things to watch for:
Who’s Checking DeMar?
DeMar DeRozan has absolutely put the Raptors’ otherwise anemic offence on his back in the absence of Lowry. After putting up back to back 40-point games (the first time a Toronto player has done that since Vince Carter in 2001), this game is once again set up for him to have an impact. The Mavericks play pretty small, throwing a variety of Yogi Ferrell, JJ Barea, Seth Curry, Devin Harris in the back court. While Wes Matthews and Harrison Barnes could probably do a serviceable job on DeRozan, he should still have his fair share of success.
Nerlens Noel’s impact
One of the ways DeRozan’s stamp on the game could be mitigated is by the presence of Nerlens Noel in the paint. Noel brings a totally different dimension to the Mavs with his mobility, defensive instinct and covers a ton of ground making up for the defensive duds around him. For Jonas Valanciunas, he brings a different type of challenge as well instead of the hulking, plodding Salah Mejri.
Who Else Shows Up?
The 4-game win streak has done a lot to quell the fears of fans about the lack of quality secondary and tertiary scoring on this roster. Without Serge Ibaka against the Heat due to his suspension, the Raptors found some valuable contributions from Jakob Poeltl, Norman Powell and Delon Wright. The Raptors have built a roster that rolls legitimately 13-deep, and assuming DeRozan carries the load again, they need 3-4 of the role players to put a good shift in. An unexpected offensive boost from the likes of Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carroll and co. would go a long way in setting the Raptors up for another W.
Where to watch: 8:30 PM EST, TSN 1/4