This is the time of year when the sun stays out longer, the NBA playoff picture starts to get clearer, and, without question, your bracket is busted! Maybe you had Virginia going far — boy, those, ahem, Cavs really sucked — or Michigan State winning it all (or in my case: both). Whatever caused the “Madness” to your bracket, I always find myself detouring to the next best thing — hoping for absolute anarchy. If my bracket lost a Final Four team (or three), I want you to lose all yours too. The tournament becomes a battle of attrition.
The same can be said for the NBA season. We’ve reached the point where every team is suffering some form of injury or fatigue. The team that prevails is the one that overcomes both. Toronto’s been blessed with good health [knocks on wood] as the longest injury absence of any of our regulars was Delon Wright, who missed 13 in November/December. Fatigue should not be as much of an issue because the Raptors run 10-deep and have the best bench in the league (+9.8 net rating is almost two points clear of next-best, Warriors).
That depth will be put to the test with a road back-to-back this week. Can the Raps recover from the Marc Davis game? (Nope, I’m not adding fuel to the fire. Every other article on this site covered my thoughts already.) How will Toronto use the final 12 games to prepare for the playoffs (as the number one seed, I should add)? Will the Raps continue going 4-0 on weeks where I write the weekly preview? (Shouts to our Editor, Daniel Reynolds, for pinch-hitting in my absence and nailing the Raps final score exactly for two games.)
Raptor points prediction by @aka_Reynolds:— Jay Rosales (@Rosalesaurus) March 17, 2018
vs. Nets - 116
vs. Pacers - 106
vs. Mavs - 124
Actual Raptor points:
vs. Nets - 116
vs. Pacers - 106
vs. Mavs - 122
Crap, have I just lost my column? https://t.co/AKJZGZP1Ev
Tuesday, March 20 @ Orlando Magic
Fun fact that may only interest me: the Magic currently has four former Raptors on the team. The first two that probably came to mind — Terrence Ross and Bismack Biyombo - were very memorable for very different reasons. The other two former Raptors are D.J. Augustin — waived 10 games into his Raptor career, and one day after Rudy Gay was traded, thus paving the way for Kyle Lowry to take over — and Corliss Williamson. The Big Nasty was acquired by the Raptors in exchange for Doug Christie, who will forever live in Raptor lore as the first player acquired during our inaugural season.
Oh, was I supposed to provide some form of analysis? Here’s a stat: since February 1, Orlando has a grand total of three wins against opponents with >.500 record. Over that same period, Toronto is 12-0 against <.500 opponents. It’s not a rabbit, but pulling a win out of the hat is good enough: 121-100 for the Raps.
Wednesday, March 21 @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Remember that battle of attrition thing I mentioned above? Well, have you seen Cleveland’s depth chart recently? Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Larry Nance Jr. are all injured or hobbled. With Toronto arriving on the second night of a road back-to-back, it would be easy to chalk this up as a schedule loss. But who exactly could the Raptors be losing to? Cleveland’s 8-man rotation is going to include Ante Zizic, John Holland, and Raptor legend, Jose Calderon. This is a shell of a team that got shellacked by Toronto just two months ago.
Before the trade deadline, the Cavs were ranked 29th in Defensive Rating (109.9). After overhauling the team and acquiring some much-needed length, youth, and defensive ability, Cleveland has skyrocketed up to, uh, 28th in Defensive Rating (109.5). Womp womp.
In any other year, I would have penciled in the L before the season even started. This is a different Raptors squad that doesn’t take any nights off. This is also a different Cavs squad that is scrambling to learn how to play better together, while battling a multitude of injuries, and running thin on time. Toronto makes another statement out of Cleveland and triumph 118-107.
Friday, March 23 vs. Brooklyn Nets
1) D’Angelo - Brown Sugar, Lady, and Untitled (How Does it Feel) are all R&B classics and I will not have any patience for anyone who says otherwise.
2) Beverly D’Angelo - As an 80’s baby, I once envisioned a future where my wife would be someone like Ellen Griswold. Bonus points for also voicing Lurleen Lumpkin!
38) D’Angelo Russell - How this snitch managed to drain seven threes in the first quarter last week is beyond me. FYI, he scored eight points the rest of the way.
We all know the Nets don’t have their draft pick. But while other bottom-dwellers are tanking their way to a high draft pick, Brooklyn is there simply because they’re horrible. Raptors clobber the Nets, 121-103.
D'Angelo Russell hit 7 triples in 6:40 of game time. pic.twitter.com/dnbv1OrqvK— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 14, 2018
Sunday, March 25 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
The wheels have been slowly falling off for the Clippers. While they managed to pull out a couple of nice wins (Celtics and Cavs) in the post-Blake era, their playoff hopes ride heavily on this brutal stretch of games. By the time they arrive in Toronto, L.A. will be playing their seventh of eight consecutive playoff teams. They’ll also be wrapping up a 4-games-in-6-nights road trip. The Clippers’ best player since the All-Star break, Tobias Harris, will try to shake an odd trend. Over the last four seasons, Harris has fouled out only twice — both vs. Toronto.
There’s nothing more dangerous than a team that’s fighting for its playoff lives. Actually, yes there is — the Raptors! Toronto is 9-2 this season when facing an opponent they had lost to in the previous meeting (Golden State and Marc Davis were the others). The Raptors have also won seven of the last eight home games vs. the Clippers. Toronto chalks up another W, 115-104.
Road to 60 Outlook
If the Raptors do finish another 4-0 week, they would match a franchise record of 56 wins. They’d also only need to split their final eight games to hit the magic 60 mark. Check the dates of the Raps last four losses before this week: March 18 (Marc Davis), February 23 (Bucks), February 1 (Wizards), and January 26 (Jazz). JANUARY! That was before the Super Bowl, folks. Soak this in, Raps fans, and just enjoy the ride.
Am I being too optimistic? Is fatigue going to kick in at some point? How do you think Toronto will do this week? Hit me up in the comments.