Based on career PER, this week includes a visit from the NBA’s best player to never make a Conference Final (Anthony Davis), the third best player to never make a Conference Final (Blake Griffin), and a date with (a presumable or potential) Raptors Conference Final opponent (Boston Celtics). Yet, the biggest name to look forward to this week is the return of Dwane Casey.
Easily the franchise’s most successful head coach, Casey amassed a 320-238 record (the only coach in franchise history to have a career winning record), won Coach of the Month on five different occasions (each in a different season), and famously won the Coach of the Year award — shortly after he was fired. He became Toronto’s eighth coach in franchise history and brought the “Pound The Rock” mentality to a club that had only made the playoffs in five out of 16 seasons. Casey finished his run with the Raptors with five consecutive playoff appearances.
Now let’s make our picks for this week’s Raptors games.
November 12 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis is one of the most feared players in the NBA today. He’s 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan, shoots really well (52/31/79 career percentages), has led the league in blocks three times, and is almost guaranteed to give you 20-10 averages every game.
Except against the Raptors.
When looking at his career splits, Davis simply does not perform well against Toronto. He has his smallest rebound average (7.9), FG% (42.9%), and True Shooting% (50.8%) against the Raptors. Only two teams have limited Davis to less than 20 points per game — Atlanta (19.8) and Toronto (15.4). AD is now in his seventh season and should have played 12 games against Toronto by now. Instead, he’s missed five games — including all four in the ‘14-’15 & ‘15-’16 seasons. In the seven games he has played, Davis’ team has lost them all.
Are we sure it’s not Toronto that Davis fears?
The Pelicans profile is quite similar to the Sacramento Kings (whom the Raptors just thrashed last week, on the road) — top five in Pace, top ten in points scored, and bottom five in points allowed. Jrue Holiday is the engine that gets their squad moving, but Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and about 14 other guards (seemingly) just slowed down De’Aaron Fox. The bench mob is beginning to show glimpses of last season’ magic, and I expect more of the same against a Pelicans bench that ranks 21st in net rating. Raptors win 118 - 110.
November 14 vs. Detroit Pistons
Casey returns! Also returning, Drummond vs. JV. The Pistons started hot, winning their first four games of the season, but have cooled off of late, losers of six of their last eight. Detroit’s defense has improved (8th in Defensive Rating) but look closely and there’s an area that Nurse can surely exploit. While the Pistons rank 5th in 2pt FGM and 3rd in 2pt FGA, they’re also 23rd in 2pt FG%.
Of the 188 NBA players that have attempted at least 35 2-point field goals, Pascal Siakam (47-71, 66.2%) and Serge Ibaka (72-110, 65.5%) rank 2nd and 3rd in percentage. Utah's Rudy Gobert (53-78, 67.9%), the league leader in dunks, is 1st.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 6, 2018
Re-read this prediction after the game and let me know how accurate/inaccurate this played out: (1) Pistons start strong because Casey has never been more prepared for an opponent; (2) Raptors mount a comeback, led by Kawhi Leonard, because who on the Pistons is seriously going to guard him?; (3) Late in the fourth quarter of a close game, Casey fails to call the right plays down the stretch while Nurse nails his crunch time lineup. Raptors win round one against their former bench boss, 115 - 109.
November 16 @ Boston Celtics
Speaking of rounds, the Raptors kick off their second four-game road trip of the young season with Round 2 against their heated rivals, Boston. Both teams are on the front-end of a back-to-back. Boston stays home and waits for the Jazz, while Toronto flies out to Chicago. The Celtics just wrapped up a 5-game road trip that included four losses, and one miracle win, where Boston overcame a 6-point deficit in the final 40 seconds to force... overtime... against the tanking Suns.
Looking back on the first match-up of the season, Boston was fully healthy, while Toronto was missing Delon Wright. It’s tempting to gloat and say the Raptors won while missing a key cog, I’m hesitant to say anything until I hear whether or not Kawhi plays (fool me once, Mr. Leonard!).
If you remember my first Rap-Up of the season, I reverse-jinxed the Raptors by predicting a Celtics win. With that said, I think the Raptors lose a heartbreaker, 110 - 109, to a Celtics team that always manages to stick around before turning it up a few notches in the fourth. Wait, does that make this a reverse-reverse-jinx?!?
November 17 @ Chicago Bulls
Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, and Bobby Portis will all miss this game with varying injuries (and tanking intentions). This is also the second game of a back-to-back (SEGABABA). I believe this qualifies for another acronym: KAREBABA — Kawhi resting on a back-to-back.
The NBA’s 4th-leading scorer, Zach LaVine, will surely get a healthy dose of Green. Or maybe Leonard (if he plays). Or possibly OG Anunoby. LaVine may lead all scorers and get his 25, but it’ll take him just as many shots to get there. Raptors overcome the SEGABABA — and KAREBABA too — with a 108 - 99 victory in Chicago.