Welcome to Boston Week! If you thought two weeks of New England Patriots and Super Bowl wasn’t enough (imagine if they won), your timeline will now be bombarded with Celtics news. Ugh! The final full week before the All-Star break pits our Atlantic Division foes against the East’s best teams. Throw in Thursday’s trade deadline, and this week has huge implications towards the makeup and seeding of the Celtics, which ultimately affects the Raptors’ season outlook.
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 5: Washington at Indiana
Raps fans, pay attention! This could be a preview of the #4 vs. #5 match-up. Or, if Washington falters in John Wall’s absence, or if Myles Turner’s injuries (missed games on seven separate occasions this season) finally catch up to him and the Pacers, then we could be looking at an #8-seed (see what I did there?).
Since Reggie Miller’s retirement after the 2004-05 season, the Pacers have been led by wings and bigs — Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and Paul George. PG’s departure has eschewed a new era in Indiana. Victor Oladipo is having a career year, nabbing his first all-star selection, and leading a Pacer squad to a playoff position that few would have predicted pre-season. Not to be outdone, his backcourt mate, Darren Collison is closing in on hallowed ground with splits of 49.4% / 43.1% / 89.5%. The emergence of this backcourt has helped Indiana reach its highest Offensive Rating — 110.5, 6th in the NBA — since 1995-96.
The Wizards have won the last three meetings, which is probably not much to brag about since the leading scorers were Paul George and John Wall. What they can brag about is reeling off three in a row since learning of Wall’s knee injury, including wins over two playoff-bound teams (OKC and... I can’t remember). Bradley Beal has validated his first all-star selection by leading the charge. He’ll be asked to do even more as the Wizards face Philly and Boston before the break, and Cleveland right after.
Tuesday, February 6: Boston at Toronto
There are going to be a ton of articles and discussions about this game, and rightfully so. They’ve been the two best teams in the East all season long. They played a nail-biter in Boston on November 12, with the C’s surviving with an 95-94 win. With Cleveland continuing to stumble and LeBron James rumours intensifying, the time (and pressure) is now.
But you already knew that and you’ve already read some variation of that about 12 times today alone. So, I’ll just strip out the emotion and hit you with some facts:
- Toronto has won eight of the last nine home meetings with Boston. The only loss, a 1-point overtime thriller, with Marcus Smart hitting the buzzer-beater. Of note in that game, Toronto had already clinched a playoff berth and were missing two starters (Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson).
- According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Raptors have a 59.3% chance of finishing with the top-seed (Celtics have remaining 40.7%), and a 52.9% chance of making the NBA Finals (C’s with 25.4%).
- Boston’s Nov. 12 victory came despite the absence of Kyrie Irving (who may miss this game too, or at least be hampered by a quadricep injury). On the flip side, Toronto was still starting Norman Powell (OG took over after this game), Jakob Poeltl played a season-low three minutes, and Jonas Valanciunas hadn’t yet been unleashed as a 3-point specialist.
- JV entered the season with a grand total of one career 3-pointer over his first five seasons. He’s drained two 3s in three separate games over the last 10 days.
Wednesday, February 7: Minnesota at Cleveland
If you read last week’s Rap-Up, you knew I wasn’t going to let this one pass unnoticed. Andrew Wiggins brings his A-Game (eh-Game?) against his hometown Raptors and the team that drafted — and traded — him, the Cavaliers. He averages his most points (29.1), field goal attempts (19.9), and highest ORtg (124).
Since December 1st, the T-Wolves have been one of the best teams in the NBA with the 4th-best record (21-13), and 2nd-best ORtg (112.4). Meanwhile, the Cavs have been mediocre, at best, barely above .500 (15-14), and owners of the worst DRtg (110.4). One of those losses, and major contributor to that DRtg, was a 127-99 drubbing in Minneapolis. LeBron James had a career-worst plus/minus of -39. The leading scorer, with 25 points in 3 quarters: Andrew Wiggins.
Thursday, February 8: Boston at Washington
Happy Trade Deadline Day! The problem with writing a weekly column on Monday is how out-of-date the information is only 24 hours later. So, tell me, reader of the future, how the heck did we end up here? Did you really think DeAndre Jordan would be playing in (insert team name)? I still can’t believe that (insert player name) was traded.
While I can’t predict what trades will happen, here’s what I do know. Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal will both be on Team LeBron on February 18, so they’d better play nice. The first team to score 110 has won each of the last 9 meetings. Boston’s averaged 109.5 points in their last 6 wins, while Washington’s scored 111.2 over their last 6 home games (4 wins).
Friday, February 9: LA Clippers at Detroit
This definitely wasn’t a game I had circled on my calendar last week. Now we’re staring at the very real possibility of Blake Griffin attempting to dunk over DeAnd—oh wait, he’s been traded hasn’t he.
The revenge factor isn’t that high for the former Pistons returning to Detroit. Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, and Boban Marjanovic’s hands spent the equivalent of 3 seasons combined for the Pistons.
Still, these are a pair of 9th-seeded teams that appear to be going in opposite directions. The Clippers are Raptors West, who are Clippers East, who are Raptors West - successful in the regular season, but quite the opposite in the playoffs. L.A. hasn’t been going anywhere (surprise, surprise) and managed to nab real talent while also keeping their eye on building for the future. For Detroit, Stan Van Gundy sacrificed a premium defender, a fringe All-Star, and Boban Marjanovic’s hands to get an injury-prone Forward, who can’t even remember how to dress himself.
Saturday, February 10: San Antonio at Golden State
On this date, last year, Draymond Green became the 2nd player in NBA history to record at least 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals. I’m not sure if it was more shocking that he added 5 blocks, or that he only managed 4 points, thus missing out on the elusive quadruple-double. This was supposed to be a marquee matchup, not only between two of the West’s best teams, but also of the past 3 DPOY — Green last season, Kawhi Leonard the previous two. Alas, Gregg Popovich has Kawhi under wraps and saving his superstar for another under-the-radar playoff run.
We say this all the time, but Popovich deserves COY consideration every damn season. Tony Parker, Leonard, and Rudy Gay have each played less than 50% of games this year. Spurs’ 2nd leading scorer is only averaging 10.8 points, which is crazy in its own right, if it also wasn’t 37-year-old, Pau Gasol.
Finally, it’s worth noting today is Zaza Pachulia’s birthday. Let’s see what I can find when I Google, “Zaza warriors spurs”.
Sunday, February 11: Cleveland at Boston
Boston week concludes with a visit from the defending Eastern Conference champs. At this point in the week, I wouldn’t blame the Celtics if they come out flat against the Cavs. This would be their 3rd game in four nights — all against their next closest conference foes. However, and apologies if this sounds like a broken record, this Cavs defense is so porous, it would surprise no one if Boston ran Cleveland off the floor. This could be another statement game for a young Boston squad that’s gaining momentum with each passing day.
Did you know the Cavaliers are closer to missing the playoffs (9th-seed) than they are to the 2nd-place Raptors? If you think the Cavs are going to sit idle at the deadline without giving LeBron another (final?) chance at bringing home a Cleveland championship, then I’ve got some Bre-X stocks to sell you.
Kyrie should be back from a quad injury to play in this game. Pray for the ankles of the Cleveland guards - Derrick Rose may just retire after this game.