Another solid week of hot NBA match-ups are on tap. Although the one that’ll stand above the rest, probably won’t be played on the hardcourt. As we enter February, the 82-game grind starts to kick in. This past week alone, we lost DeMarcus Cousins, Mike Conley, and Andre Roberson to season-ending injuries. The Raptors will start to see the fruits of their early-season labours.
After enduring a road-heavy (and West-heavy) schedule in the 2017 portion of the season, the NBA has gifted Toronto with very little travel in February — only four road games total! Meanwhile, Dwane Casey has just clinched his spot as All-Star coach, the first such honour in franchise history. He’ll coach Team LeBron, and opposite his own players, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who were drafted by Team Steph.
Alright, enough with the small talk. Let’s get to the games of the week. Quick reminder of our rating scale below.
The OG Anunoby Rating Scale of Excitability
1 = One emotionless OG: little to no effect on the Raptors, but it’s better than nothing.
2 = One emotionless OG looking in a mirror: little effect on the Raptors, but it should be a good one.
3 = OG raising his eyebrows (Is he excited? Shocked? Laughing??): good match-up not including the Raptors; or not-as-exciting-but-at-least-it’s-the-Raptors.
4 = OG smirk: must-watch, whether or not it affects the Raptors.
5 = OG smiling: drop everything and watch this game.
January 29: Boston at Denver
When these teams faced off in mid-December, they were each missing their star forwards. Nikola Jokic was still on the shelf with an ankle sprain, while Al Horford was nursing a right knee bruise. Denver responded with their best shooting performance of the season (59.5 FG%). Boston, however, answered with its highest point total of the season, in an exciting 124-118 victory.
This figures to be another hotly contested match-up. The Nuggets are right in the thick of the playoff race and may have one less contender to worry about (Pelicans, more on them below). The Celtics will be wrapping up a 4-game West-Coast swing and coming off a visit to the defending champion, Warriors.
January 30: Minnesota at Toronto
Who’s ready for another Andrew Wiggins homecoming? Maple Jordan (I don’t know if anyone actually calls him that, but it is honestly one of the best nicknames ever) always brings his A-game (eh game?) when facing his hometown Raptors. His Usage % is higher against Toronto than any other opponent, and his 25.3 point average is only eclipsed by the 29.1 he averages against the team that drafted/traded him (Cleveland).
While a big game is expected from Wiggins, a Minnesota loss is almost a sure thing as well. Since the calendar flipped to 2018, the Timberwolves are an amazing 8-0 at home (including a comeback victory over these Raptors), but an awful 1-6 on the road. They’ll also be on the tail-end of a back-to-back after visiting Atlanta, while Toronto will have an extra day of rest after hosting the Lakers.
January 31: Miami at Cleveland
Ever since Lebron James brought his talents back from South Beach, the outcomes of these games have been fairly predictable — home team has won 11 of 12. What makes this matchup intriguing is the directions these teams have been heading. Miami has the best record in the East in January, as well as the 4th-best defensive rating. Cleveland will not finish above .500 for games played in January, and also have the worst defensive rating. Erik Spoelstra has the Heat playing some outstanding defense lately. Miami has held 5 of their last 6 road opponents below their season average and have kept their last 3 opponents under 100. Cleveland is 0-8 when they do not hit triple-digits.
February 1: Houston at San Antonio
Before the Spurs go on their annual rodeo trip, the NBA tries to balance the schedule out by giving San Antonio a comfortable home-stand beforehand. Gregg Popovich’s crew has responded well, winning all three of four last season, all three the year before, and five of six the year before that. Houston has been coming down to Earth a bit recently, posting a less-than-stellar 4-6 mark over their last 10 road games.
This visit with their Texas rival kicks off a 4-game road trip that includes visits to Cleveland, Brooklyn (who aren’t as bad as you’d think, especially now with D’Angelo Russell back), and Miami. With Kawhi Leonard still out indefinitely, James Harden can hope for clearer paths to the bucket.
February 2: New Orleans at Oklahoma City
Oof. This game looked a lot juicier a couple days ago. You have to feel for Boogie Cousins. After years of early summers in Sacramento, he finally lands in a situation where he’s not required to carry his team on his broad shoulders. A situation that had the makings of his very first playoff appearance. The Pelicans are stuck between a rock and a hard place — too good to tank, yet probably not good enough to make the playoffs. They’re hard-capped, so there isn’t room for a trade that would move the needle.
On the other side, Oklahoma City also lost a starter. No, he’s not an All-Star. No, he doesn’t average 25.2 points per game. Heck, he doesn’t even average 5.2(!) points per game. However, losing Andre Roberson for the season is a huge blow to a Thunder team that’s turned it around after a slow start. It’s the NBA’s version of first-world-problems when these teams can still turn to superstars like Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George.
Westbrook, George, Carmelo, Adams all on the floor together this season...— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) January 28, 2018
Def rating with Roberson: 96.6
Def rating without Roberson: 114.5
One man causes a 4 man rotation to go from worst to first defensively.
Major blow to OKC defense.
February 3: Houston at Cleveland
This game matches up the only players this season to have a triple-double AND five steals in the same game. LeBron accomplished the feat (16/10/14/5) on Dec. 27 against Sacramento — a Cavs loss. Harden pulled off a more impressive line (35/11/13/5) on November 9 — a Rockets win over these Cavs.
Early returns on Ty Lue’s lineup change have been good. While the offense faces a stern test against Miami (as you read above), the efense (sorry, I still haven’t seen much ‘D’ lately) will have to figure out a way to slow down the league’s 2nd-ranked offense. Consider this your warning: the LeBron-to-Houston rumours will only intensify with every Cavs blowout loss or locker-room argument. Keep a close eye on the pre-(and post)game interactions between LeBron, Harden, and banana-boater, Chris Paul.
February 4: Philadelphia vs. New England
Let’s be honest. You’re reading this because you love basketball (or me. Hi Dad!). But there’s no denying what game everyone will be tuning into — the Super Bowl. If you want a break from the 12-hour long pre-game show, then flip over to the Memphis-Toronto game and over-analyze every single movement by Marc Gasol. (Did he just hug Masai? What did Lowry just say to him at the free-throw line? Is he coming to Toronto?!?) For the big game, here are some fun cross-sport prop bets to consider:
- Higher point total: DeMar DeDozan (vs. Grizzlies) or the Eagles (vs. Patriots)
- Higher total: Tyreke Evans pts + rebs + asts (@ Raptors) or Patriots (vs. Eagles)
- Higher total: Grizzlies final score (@ Raptors) or Rob Gronkowski’s total receiving yards (vs. Eagles)
Let me know your predictions in the comments. Enjoy the games!