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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Dec. 3 - 9

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A challenging December schedule kicks off with tough games against the Nuggets, Sixers, and Bucks. What are your predictions?

What a difference a week makes... or not.

Toronto is coming off a week where they were gearing up face two of the best records in the league — Memphis and Golden State — as of last Monday’s Rap-Up.

Toronto enters this week gearing up to face two of the best records in the league — Denver and Milwaukee!

It should come as no surprise that, despite having the best record in the NBA, talking heads are still trying to poke holes in Toronto’s armor. For all this talk about the Raptors having an easy schedule, thus far, it’s probably a good time to let everyone know that Toronto is tied with the Lakers for the second-best record (7-4) in the NBA vs. teams over .500 (Milwaukee is 8-4). By comparison, the Raptors were only 24-21 last season.

Only 3 teams rank in the top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive Rating. Toronto is one. The other two bookend this week’s games — Denver and Milwaukee.

December 3 vs. Denver Nuggets

Saskatoon native, Trey Lyles, and Kitchener native, Jamal Murray return to the motherland for a date with their childhood favourite team. Denver has been a bit streaky to start the season. After winning 9 of their first 10 games, they went on to lose 6 of their following 7... only to reel off 5 straight wins heading into a date with the Raptors. Denver’s last three games have been attention-grabbing victories over West playoff teams — the Thunder, Lakers, and Blazers.

Nikola Jokic has been the second coming of Chris Webber (I should know, I’m the unofficial president of C-Webb’s fan club). His Rebound % is higher than Anthony Davis’, while his Assist % is higher than Mike Conley’s. Did I mention he’s doing this with a lower Usage Rate than Tyreke Evans, Dwyane Wade, and Jabari Parker? He’s only 23, fills the stat sheet consistently, and should be headed towards his first (of many) All-Star selection(s).

Prediction

A few things don’t sit well with me. Toronto ranks 9th in 3-point field goal attempts per game, but only 15th in makes. Denver ranks 1st in opponents 3-point field goal %. With Jokic, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, and Juan Hernangomez on the roster, Denver ranks 5th in offensive rebounding. As you saw in the Golden State game, this is going to be a problem all season — Toronto ranks dead-last in offensive rebounds allowed per game. Finally, this game is on a Monday — by far Toronto’s worst day of the week. 50% of the Raptors losses (obviously inflated when there are only four losses total) have come on a Monday. Nuggets strike it rich and beat the Raptors, 114-110.

December 5 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Jimmy Butler and the Sixers return to Toronto — only this time, they’re together! It’s hard to gauge whether or not this marriage is working yet. On one hand, Philadelphia has won 8 of 10 since acquiring Butler. On the other hand, six of those wins have come against non-playoff teams. Another win was against the Hornets, who are below .500. Still, this is a much different Sixers team than the one Toronto defeated handily on October 30. Three of Philly’s starters are no longer — Robert Covington and Dario Saric are in Minnesota, while Markelle Fultz is not with the team (and may never return).

In one of his final games with Minnesota, Butler was held relatively in check (23 points, 5 assists, 6 steals), as Kawhi Leonard went off (35 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks). However, Butler is the only high-usage player with a better Steal:Foul ratio (44:36) than Leonard (30:29). It’s a shame we probably won’t see these two matched up too much. In the last matchup, Kawhi had Ben Simmons’ lunch AND dinner, playing a huge role in Simmons’ 11 turnovers.

Prediction

We’re at the halfway point of this article and I still haven’t typed the words, Pascal Siakam. Actually, I also haven’t mentioned, Danny Green, or OG Anunoby yet. All three of these fine gentlemen will get their crack at stopping Butler while Leonard bottles up Simmons. It’s still mind-blowing how many weapons Nick Nurse has at his disposal. The Raptors deep-six the Sixers, 121-115.

December 7 @ Brooklyn Nets

Markel Brown, Alan Anderson, and Deron Williams. Those are three of the six players who played heavy minutes for the Nets the last time they defeated the Raptors. Toronto is currently on a 12-game winning streak against Brooklyn. Remember that stat at the beginning about Toronto’s record vs. teams above .500? The Raptors’ record vs. teams BELOW .500 is 13-0.

Prediction

It’s probably worth mentioning that Brooklyn is among the league leaders in 3-pointers attempted and made - both offensively and defensively. On the flip side, the Nets are one of the worst in 2-pointers allowed. This smells like a Siakam game. Raptors dunk all over the Nets, 116-105.

December 9 vs. Milwaukee Bucks

I’ve done it. I’ve found a glitch in the matrix! The next paragraph is blatant plagiarism from another Milwaukee-Toronto preview. But is it really plagiarism if the original writer was me? It’s actually what I wrote before the Raptors visited the Bucks last month. Before chalking this up to extreme laziness, it’s still relevant AND all of the stats are still accurate, because it focused squarely on two players who didn’t even play! Just call me, Neo, and all is forgiven.

While this is a match-up of the final undefeated two of the best teams in the league, the focus is mostly going to be affixed on 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 averaged (15.5 / 6.7 / 4.5 / 0.6 / 0.4 / 52.7% FG) that aren’t eye-popping — and mostly below career averages.

Prediction

Since defeating Toronto, Milwaukee has been a very modest 8 - 7, including losses to the Suns and Knicks (woof!). The Bucks offense has continued to be the best in the league, but on the other side of the ball, their defensive rating has ranked 18th since facing the Raptors. Milwaukee’s lost 5 of their last 7 on the road and will be visiting Toronto two days after playing the Golden State Warriors (who will have Steph Curry back). The Raptors avenge their first loss of the season and freak out the Bucks, 125-114.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 19 - 5 (3 - 0)