Jimmy Butler is coming to Toronto — as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In all honesty, Miami or LA or Philly can have him. The Feng Shui of this Raptors team will be thrown off if Masai Ujiri were to acquire the disgruntled Butler. Any package would probably include Serge Ibaka, who has been cooking to start the season.
Meanwhile, coach Nick Nurse has been pushing all the right buttons so far. He has stayed true to his word on lineup flexibility (different starting lineups in each of the first three games), shot selection (85.3% of field goal attempts have either been 3-pointers or shots in the paint), and getting Kawhi Leonard acclimated asap (no. 4 in Usage %).
The win over Boston gave Toronto the early title of “team to beat” in the East. The win over Washington was, in my opinion, even more impressive. On the road, back-end of the back-to-back, with no Kawhi to carry the scoring load for the starters, and no Delon Wright to carry the play-making load for the bench. The Wizards were well rested, about to embark on a long road trip, and probably wanted to get some revenge on the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs.
Yet, here we are at 3-0. With another three-game week ahead, let’s see what’s on tap.
October 22 vs. Charlotte Hornets
Rewind the calendar to mid-January. San Antonio takes advantage of a tired Denver Nuggets squad (on the road, back-end of a back-to-back) with an easy 112-80 home victory. Now, what if I tell you, intelligent Raptors HQ reader, the next time Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard all take the floor at the same time will be in mid-October in Toronto with Charlotte visiting? It sounded as ridiculous in the present day as it would have 10 months ago (or even three months ago). Regardless of how crazy it is to see all these ex-Spurs in different uniforms, I’m sure they’ll all be happy to reunite.
Tony Parker on his return from the career-threatening quad injury he suffered last May: I’ve been through it. It was a rehab for me for eight months. Same kind of injury (as Kawhi), but mine was a hundred times worse. But the same kind of injury. You just stay positive."— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) March 23, 2018
Uhh, I’m sure that was just the media over-blowing Parker’s comment. He even reiterated in a more recent interview that those comments were taken out of context. That’s good because it’s not like it had any ramifications.
Woj: The 'last straw' for Kawhi Leonard were Tony Parker's comments about Leonard's injury.— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) June 30, 2018
Lowe confirms he also heard the same thing. pic.twitter.com/G7qBYQT6ZJ
Uhh, hey look, Kemba Walker is averaging a league-best 35.3 points per game!
Throughout the storied history of Toronto’s rivalry with the Hornets-turned-Bobcats-turned-Hornets, the Raptors have never strung together a five-game winning streak. Toronto have won the last four meetings by an average of 14 points, Charlotte’s in the middle of a four-game road swing, and Kawhi Leonard should be back in the lineup after skipping the trip to Washington (don’t worry, it’s all part of his “early season load maintenance program.”). All of this points to the Raptors winning 116-108.
October 24 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The annual visit from the T-Wolves is normally all about the homecoming of Andrew Wiggins. However, this time, all eyes will be on Jimmy Butler. The (outspoken?) Wolves star has been a writer’s dream since news first broke of his trade demands last month. The fact that he’s wearing a Minnesota jersey at this point (or at all) is a minor miracle. His clutch 3 in the final minute of the season opener in San Antonio tied a see-saw battle. (Some new guy scored the next, and final, four points to seal the Spurs victory.)
In Minnesota’s home opener, Butler was able to play through the boos and lead his team to their first W of the season — 33 points, 7 boards, 4 steals, 2 blocks. Toronto shouldn’t have any problems scoring, as Minnesota ranks 28th in Defensive Rating and 26th in points allowed. Where the Raptors will be tested is on the other end. Tom Thibodeau’s squad is second in the league in scoring, averaging a preposterous 125 points per game. With Thibs trotting out a lineup that includes two bigs — KAT and Taj Gibson — we may see a return to the Ibaka-JV frontcourt that former head coach Dwane Casey ran all of last season.
You know what else normally happens when the T-Wolves come to town? A Raptors victory. Toronto has won the last 14 meetings at home! When Minnesota last visited and defeated the Toronto (January 21, 2004), Facebook had not yet launched. Janet Jackson’s breast had not yet been exposed to a global audience. Wolves rookie Josh Okogie was only five years old. You get the picture. This promises to be a high-scoring affair, where Toronto has just the right amount of firepower and defensive acumen to pull out a 123-117 win.
October 26 vs. Dallas Mavericks
This may be the last time Toronto will get to see future Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki on the court. Actually, that time may have already passed, as Dirk will be out with an ankle injury. Regardless, his visit won’t stop me from giving you useless information that you’ll likely forget in an hour. Nowitzki made his NBA debut on February 5, 1999. A mere 23 days later, current teammate, Luka Doncic, was born. The rookie standout didn’t take long to show NBA fans what all the hype was about. In his second game, Doncic led the Mavs to their first win of the season and also made all his fantasy owners happy — 26 points, 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 4 triples on 50% shooting.
Mind you, that was against a Timberwolves squad playing on the road, on the back-end of a back-to-back, and resting the aforementioned, Jimmy Butler.
Wow, another JV start is in the cards. He will surely be called upon to do battle with DeAndre Jordan. As for the rest of the matchups, Doncic will have the pleasure of meeting Kawhi or OG, with the other matching up with Wesley (prounounced ‘washed’) Matthews. These were the types of games where Toronto can and will flex some muscles before easing to the finish line. Raps win big, 118-100.