And then there were two!
Only two NBA teams are without a loss. While the teams in question were likely not on your radar as the “last team standing” before the season started, they’ll take centre stage on Monday night.
After facing the Bucks, Toronto’s got a back-to-back that involves facing the [cough] overrated [cough] Sixers. The Raptors then kick-off a 4-game road trip with visits to Phoenix and L.A. That’s right, folks. This week alone, Kawhi gets to take down Giannis and LeBron, in an effort to try and overtake the current leader of Basketball Reference’s MVP Award Tracker.
Remember to comment with your predictions.
Monday, October 29 @ Milwaukee Bucks
While this is a match-up of the final undefeated teams in the league, the focus is mostly going to be about two individuals — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. Head-to-head, Kawhi has a commanding 7-1 lead, with the one loss coming in a game where the Greek Freak played only nine minutes before leaving with an illness. Of course, that’s not a fair comparison since Leonard was with the Spurs and Antetokounmpo was muddling through a pre-Budenholzer Bucks offense. What is fair, is their individual statistics. Kawhi’s averages when facing the Greek Freak (18.1 pts / 5.9 rebs / 1.5 asts / 1.8 stls/ 1.1 blks / 47% FG) are fairly similar to his career averages (16.5 / 6.2 / 2.3 / 1.8 / 0.7 / 49.5% FG). Giannis’ averages when facing Kawhi (11.1 / 6.1 / 2.3 / 1.0 / 1.0 / 45% FG) are well below his career averages (17.3 / 7.6 / 3.8 / 1.2 / 1.3 / 50.6% FG). In 18 career games vs. Toronto, Giannis has averages (15.5 / 6.7 / 4.5 / 0.6 / 0.4 / 52.7% FG) that aren’t eye-popping — and mostly below career averages.
Are these numbers still not interesting enough? Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is being credited for turning around this formerly-stagnant offense into an offensive juggernaut (5th in points scored; 8th in offensive rating). Before joining Milwaukee, Budenholzer coached the Atlanta Hawks over the last five seasons. Toronto’s record vs. Atlanta was 13 - 6, and holding the Hawks under 100 in 12 of those games.
Both teams have played some similar schedules to date. Both have defeated the Hornets and Timberwolves. Both have handled a pair of lottery teams (Bucks vs. Knicks/Magic; Raps vs. Cavs/Mavs). Both have gotten by potential playoff foes (Bucks vs. Sixers/Pacers; Raps vs. Celtics/Wizards). Two important keys to monitor: Bucks 3-point shooting and Raptors’ ability to generate second-chance points. Milwaukee is first in 3-pointers made, while Toronto is eighth in opponent 3-point FGA. The Bucks also rank first in defensive (and total) rebounds per game, while the Raptors are ninth in Offensive Rebound %. Milwaukee has yet to score less than 113 points, while the Raptors have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 113. It’s a coin toss that should be awarded to the home team, but I trust Kawhi’s record vs. Giannis. I trust the Raptors record vs. Budenholzer. I trust Toronto’s record in Milwaukee (won 7 of last 8 regular season visits) and overall (won 15 of last 18 regular season meetings). Raptors are the last undefeated team, winning 115 - 109.
Tuesday, October 30 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
It’s not even November and Toronto would have already faced all of the top East foes (with the exception of Indiana). The Milwaukee preview was very stat-heavy, so let’s hit you with some facts, shall we? Fact: Toronto has won the last 11 home games vs. Philadelphia. Fact: Toronto has won 18 of the last 20 games overall vs. Philadelphia. Fact: Philadelphia has lost all their road games so far this season. Fact: This is a road game for Philadelphia. Fact: The Sixers have been prohibitive preseason prognosticator darlings (how’s that for alliterative!), often landing as a Top-3 contender in the East. Fact: The Sixers are currently at .500 with a middle-of-the-pack offense (13th in points scored), an almost-non-existent bench (ranked #26 in the league with only 15.2 minutes played), and losses to two of their closest rivals (Celtics and Bucks).
Embiid and Simmons can and will get double-doubles, but this top-heavy team will wear down as the game progresses. Philly was held to only 87 points when they faced the switch-happy, wings-a-plenty Celtics. (Another fact: Toronto is also switch-happy and have plenty of wings.) When the Sixers were dismantled by the Bucks, they fell victim to an other-worldly MVP candidate (Antetokounmpo), and an opponent that dropped 13 triples. (Yet another fact: Leonard is quite other-worldly, as seen in the clip below, and the Raptors average 12.7 triples at home.) Chalk up another victory for the good guys. Raptors win 114 - 100.
Seeing the ball is overrated. pic.twitter.com/Ys1fb9CZhO— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 25, 2018
Friday, November 2 @ Phoenix Suns
As the Raptors embark on a 4-game road trip — tied for their longest of the season — Toronto’s focus shifts West. Phoenix was an abomination last season, finishing dead last in Offensive and Defensive Rating. Coach Igor Kokoskov was hired in May and has already turned around the team while improving those ratings to 25th in ORtg and 28th in DRtg. Sorry, but technically that’s an improvement. Devin Booker was the lone bright spot, dropping 70 points in a... wait, that was two seasons ago?!? In both match-ups last season (Toronto victories, by the way), the leading rebounder was none other than Greg Monroe. What a difference a season makes. From starting big man on a lottery team, to 12th man of a Finals contender. Tonight also marks our first look at prized draft pick, DeAndre Ayton, whose last name I will surely butcher all season long. Ayton is already making an impact in his first couple games, ranking 16th in both rebounds (10.2) and PER (26.9). I fully expect him to be unable to handle JV’s strength nor account for Ibaka’s nimbleness in protecting the rim
Let’s not get cute with this. Toronto blows out Phoenix 125 - 105. If, for some reason you think otherwise, remember this: Booker will have to score on Kyle Lowry, or Danny Green, or Leonard — there are simply no holes to expose — and the kid may not even be healthy come game time. (Booker is still dealing with a hamstring injury.) Ayton may be posting solid numbers, but he’s about to face a squad that ranks no. 1 in defending shots at the rim. Raptors are holding teams to under 51 percent shooting at the rim.
Sunday, November 4 @ Los Angeles Lakers
Alright, the orchestra music is starting to play, so let’s plow through this final game. Yes, it’s must-watch because the best Raptors team in franchise history is about to do battle with our generation’s greatest player (and Toronto’s nemesis), LeBron James. While this may be a big deal to Raptor fans, it’s just another game for LeBron. He’s made a career out of laying waste to the Eastern Conference. Players will never admit it, but you have to think they’re quite happy with how the trade worked out. LeBron moving out West opened the proverbial door for all Eastern Conference contenders. Speaking of which, have you met Toronto’s newest acquisition, Kawhi Leonard? Kawhi famously slowed down James during the 2014 NBA Finals (garnering a Finals MVP for his efforts).
Back-end of a Home/Away back-to-back, the Lakers will shift from battling one of the toughest guard duos in the league (CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard) to one of the toughest wing trios (Danny Green, Leonard, and OG Anunoby). JV will be able to contain JaVale McGee. Lowry and Green will add to their league-leading ORtg (Green is #1; Lowry is #2) while also shutting down Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. Toronto continues their road trip on the right foot, winning 115 - 103.
Last week: 3-0
Season Record: 5-1