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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Dec. 31-Jan. 6

Since Draymond Green’s karate chop, the NBA’s four best defenses are the Jazz, Pacers, Spurs, and Bucks. Guess who the Raptors face this week?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar flips to 2019, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the year that was, as well as look forward to the year ahead.

This year may have been the second-best calendar year in Raptors franchise history — trailing only 2016 when we were two wins away from the Finals. There was “DeMar. Dominant. Dynamite.”; OG’s coming-of-age three vs. Cleveland in Game 3; ”VanVleet. Van Good.”; Delon blocking Oubre to close out the Wizards; DeRozan/Danny Green trade; numerous signature wins this season including Celtics (Oct. 19), Lakers (Nov. 4), Warriors (Nov. 29 AND Dec. 12); the NBA’s best record over the 2018 calendar year.

Looking towards 2019, Toronto is tied with Brooklyn for the least amount of remaining games left. The Raptors have the best road record in the NBA. Kyle Lowry was not in uniform for nine of Toronto’s 11 losses, with one of those two losses occurring in Philadelphia. He had missed the four games before the Philly game, and hasn’t played in the three since. If you think Lowry was going to sit out a game against his hometown Sixers, I have some magic beans to sell you.

While this week’s slate of games don’t offer too much hope for the slumping Raps, the general outlook on 2019 paints a much rosier picture. Let’s dive into some New Year’s Resolutions for the Raptors in 2019.

January 1 vs. Utah Jazz

New Year’s Resolution: Inside the arc - get back to what the Raptors were. Yes, Toronto is still ranked second in 2-pt FG% (55.4%, trailing only the Bucks at 57.1%). However, they just endured their worst two-point shooting night in franchise history (26.2% vs Orlando), and followed that up with a 42.4% performance against Chicago.

Toronto now faces a Jazz team that’s in the bottom-10 in 2-pt FG attempts allowed and 19th in 2-pt FG made. In their only other meeting this season, a Kawhi-less Raptor squad hit over 67% of their 2-pt FG attempts. Mind you, Toronto also had a healthy Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, while Utah was without Donovan Mitchell. This time around, the Raptors may or may not have Lowry (and definitely not JV), while the Jazz may or may not have the services of Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, and/or Grayson Allen.

Prediction

This should be a Raptors victory. Utah will not be coming to Toronto with a fully healthy squad. It’s very likely they would have taken part in Toronto’s famed nightlife for a New Year’s celebration or two. The Raptors spanked the Jazz earlier this season, 124-111, in a game that was a larger blowout than what the final score indicates. Having said all that, Toronto simply has not looked good lately, plus we’re at the mercy of Lowry’s back. Jazz play music to their own ears and upset the Raptors, 104-103.

January 3 @ San Antonio Spurs

New Year’s Resolution: Stop talking about DeRozan. Yes, he’s in the conversation of greatest Raptor in franchise history, but let’s move on already. Can we please stop comparing Kawhi’s Raptors to DeMar’s Raptors? (Mainly because they’re both Kyle’s teams!) Can we stop fretting about how Masai Ujiri handled the DeRozan trade? Can we stop living in the past and move on with our championship run already? Can we stop comparing DeMar to Kawhi, and vice versa?

But first, check out DeMar and Kawhi crossing various Magic players this month!

Prediction

Since Draymond Green karate-chopped JV (what, me bitter?), Toronto has been playing .500 basketball (4-4) while fielding the 24th-ranked Offensive Rating and 24th-ranked Defensive Rating. San Antonio’s ranks over the same time period? First in O-Rating and third in D-Rating. DeMar wins round one as Spurs upend the Raps, 108-100.

January 5 @ Milwaukee Bucks

New Year’s Resolution: Tame all your Raptor killers. Tony Snell tortured the Raptors in his Bulls days. Thon Maker plays his best when facing Toronto (two of his top three game scores last season and his second-best game score this season were all against the Raps). Malcolm Brogdon and Donte DiVincenzo each hit back-breaking triples in Milwaukee’s two wins this season. George Hill is always a pain in Lowry’s side.

For each of these Bucks, there’s a more-than-capable Raptor who can match him. Toronto needs this win more than Milwaukee. A loss would hand the Bucks an insurmountable 3-0 head-to-head edge, should these two teams end the season with similar records. Toronto needs to build off the close loss to the Bucks earlier this month and finish them off this time.

Prediction

How bad could this game get? Let us count the ways. Toronto will likely come out flat, especially after enduring the emotional roller-coaster of the Spurs game. Milwaukee has one of the best home-court crowds/advantages in the league. It’s the front-end of a back-to-back, which opens the possibility of a random Raptor being benched. Oh, there’s that Greek Freak fellow too. Toronto is unable to buck the trend and lose in Milwaukee (again), 115-100.

January 6 vs. Indiana Pacers

New Year’s Resolution: Start playing back-to-backs, Kawhi. After this back-to-back, there are two more in January and two in March. That’s it. There aren’t any in the playoffs either. Leonard is looking more and more like the best two-way player that dominated the league only two seasons ago. It’s time to start seeing him on a consistent basis.

Prediction

Could the Raptors’ zone defense work again? In their previous meeting, Toronto’s offense stalled (surprise surprise) for the majority of three quarters — until Nurse installed his zone defense and all was right in the world. Nurse also used the zone effectively in the Miami comeback. Toronto would be susceptible to an open 3, but this Pacers squad is 28th in 3-pointers attempted and made. They’re 25th in offensive boards and 28th in free throws made. The Raptors can be aggressive on the perimeter, prevent the long-ball, and still corral the rebound. Toronto also catches Indiana in the midst of a season-long five-game road trip. The Raptors out-pace the Pacers and win 102-98.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 25 - 13 (1 - 2)