With the Celtics coming down to Earth and the Cavaliers overhauling their entire team, the time is now for the Raptors. What’s especially gratifying is Toronto is playing like the best team in the East, nay, the entire National Basketball Association. They’re not backing into the top-seed, they’re taking what’s due to them. This is the second consecutive week as the only team in the NBA that’s top-5 in both offensive and defensive ratings. Enjoy the ride!
As usual, I’ll highlight one game per day, break it down a little, then give the game a rating based on the scale below.
The OG Anunoby Rating Scale of Excitability
1 = One emotionless OG: little to no effect on the Raptors, but it’s better than nothing.
2 = One emotionless OG looking in a mirror: little effect on the Raptors, but it should be a good one.
3 = OG raising his eyebrows (Is he excited? Shocked? Laughing??): good match-up not including the Raptors; or not-as-exciting-but-at-least-it’s-the-Raptors.
4 = OG smirk: must-watch, whether or not it affects the Raptors.
5 = OG smiling: drop everything and watch this game.
Monday, February 12: San Antonio at Utah
I have questions. Lots of them. How is San Antonio still winning without Kawhi Leonard? Is he coming back at all this season? Weren’t Utah supposed to be tanking? Who is Royce O’Neale? Since Rudy Gobert returned to the lineup, the Jazz have won 10 of 12, and nine straight, including victories over the Raptors, Warriors (by 30!), and these Spurs. Utah has understandably led the league in rebounding during this stretch, but have also been lights-out from downtown, leading the league in 3pt%.
Ricky Rubio’s resurgence has been key — the Jazz are 17-6 when Rubio has a Game Score of 11.0 or better — as well as the shooting of O’Neale. The undrafted Baylor Bear, spent 2 seasons in Europe before playing his way onto Quin Snyder’s squad. O’Neale has seen an increase in minutes during this streak and he’s rewarded his teammates with 52.5/47.6/84.6 shooting splits. Utah’s improbable turnaround can best be illustrated by simply looking at the standings before the win streak. On January 24, the Jazz were as close to the worst record in the NBA as they were to the 8th-seed. Yet, here they are, back at .500 and closing in on the Boogie-less Pelicans and Blake-less Clippers.
As for the Spurs, this season is just another chapter in Gregg Popovich’s brilliant coaching career. Despite getting close to nothing from Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, and Kawhi Leonard for the majority of this season, San Antonio still has the 5th-best record in the NBA. The Spurs are going to trot out a starting line-up of Patty Mills, Danny Green, Davis Bertans, Kyle Anderson, and Pau Gasol. They’re visiting the hottest team in the league, who just defeated them less than two weeks ago, while also in the middle of their annual rodeo trip (25 days between home games). Yet, how confident would you feel betting against the Spurs?
Tuesday, February 13: Miami at Toronto
The Heat are one of four teams to leave the ACC with a victory this season. They’re also one of one teams that I’ve watched in person this season. Thankfully, I’m not going to this game. More importantly, the Raptors are 6-1 when facing an opponent whom they had previously lost to this season (damn you, Golden State). While Miami received a boost with the return of Dwyane Wade, the team struggled again to generate any offense. Over their last 10 games, Miami has scored more than the league average (105.8) only twice, failing to hit triple digits in seven games. With Goran Dragic nursing a left hand injury, and the All-Star break a few days away, Toronto might have one less starter to worry about.
Raptors average margin of victory during their 5-game win streak: +21.0 points. Number of 4th quarter minutes Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas have totalled in those games: ZERO.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) February 11, 2018
Wednesday, February 14: Toronto at Chicago
Chicago will have the advantage of an extra night’s rest, facing a Raptors squad that would’ve played the night before, and playing the tail-end of a season-long 5-game homestand. Sandwiched in the middle of that homestand is the All-Star break — allowing the Bulls to stay in Chi-Town for almost three weeks. While that sounds appealing to Bulls fans, the reality is they’re facing a Toronto squad that’s owned them this season, scoring at least 117 in each of their three victories. Speaking of victories, those have been few and far between for Chicago lately. Over the last month, they’ve beaten the worst team in the NBA (Atlanta) and squeezed out a 1-point win when Jimmy Butler made his return to Chicago.
Quick reminder: this is the final regular season game for the Raptors where they play OUTSIDE the Eastern Standard Time Zone.
Thursday, February 15: Los Angeles at Minnesota
Weird World of Walton fact #1: Newly acquired, Channing Frye, played on the same starting lineup as his head coach, Luke Walton, at the University of Arizona.
Weird World of Walton fact #2: Jamal Crawford is eight days older than Lakers coach, Walton.
It’s odd to think this, but the Raptors’ future has quite a bit riding on the Lakers. Los Angeles managed to work some trade deadline magic last week. They unloaded Jordan Clarkson’s contract to Cleveland, acquired a former All-Star who can help fill seats (Isaiah Thomas), and most importantly, cleared enough cap space for two superstars in the off-season. The prospect of a LeBron-less Eastern Conference is particularly sweet news for this Raptors squad that’s locked in for at least two more seasons. The Lakers are also giving up their draft pick to one of Toronto’s Atlantic Division foes — #2-#5 goes to Boston, #1 and/or #6-#30 goes to Philly). Add this all up, and Raptor fans will continue keeping tabs out West.
Minnesota is League-Pass-worthy every night, partly because they have the 3rd-ranked offense, but also because it’s astonishing to witness Tom Thibodeau ride his players to the ground. Four of his starters are in the top-10 list for most minutes played.
Friday, February 16: World vs. USA
With no more regular season games to preview this week, I should probably end the article here. But that would deprive me the chance to rant about the Rookie-Sophs game! Check out these stats (per 100 possessions):
Player 1: 20.8 pts, 6.2 rebs, 7.8 asts, 2.3 stls, 42.9%/40.4%/86.7%
Player 2: 20.4 pts, 8.0 rebs, 3.8 asts, 1.5 stls, 42.4%/38.6%/82.7%
Certainly looks like Player 1 has better stats. Yet, whether you value rebounds more than the other 6 stats listed, or even if you consider these players to be even, shouldn’t the USA Team still choose the one playing for the East’s best team (Player 1 = Fred Van Vleet), rather than its worst team (Player 2 = Taurean Prince)?????
Player 1: 15.9 pts, 10.8 rebs, 4.5 asts, 2.1 stls, 1.3 blks
Player 2: 18.6 pts, 12.8 rebs, 1.4 asts, 1.0 stls, 3.2 blks
Player 3: 20.7 pts, 5.0 rebs, 5.7 asts, 1.9 stls, 0.5 blks
Pick your poison, World Team, either of the first 2 players — Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, respectively — have better stats, if not equal, to Bogdan Bogdanovic, he of the last place team in the West.
Saturday, February 17: All-Star Saturday
Jamal Murray in the Skills Challenge and K.L.O.E. in the 3-Point Contest. That is all, fellow Canadians. Slam Dunk? It’ll bomb. Best performance was by a Raptor, and best contest was in Toronto!
Sunday, February 18: Team Lebron vs. Team Curry
If I’m Casey, there is 0% chance I’m resting LeBron or Kyrie. You’d also better believe we’re going with a full-court press..... ALL. GAME. LONG.