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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Jan. 14-20

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The Raptors visit one of the hottest teams in the East before facing two of the worst in the West. Time to make some predictions for Toronto.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get our Raptors into All-Star Weekend!

The easiest thing to do is vote. To make voting easier, simply filter by teams, and select Toronto Raptors. Not only does that make it quicker for you to vote, but it also takes away a vote for a non-Raptor that’s probably more deserving. Sure, you may think Joel Embiid is more deserving than OG Anunoby, but can Embiid play a ukulele like this?

All-Star Saturday should also have its fill of Raptors. Pascal Siakam should be in the Skills Challenge. Come on, ‘Skills’ is his nickname! Danny Green needs to be in the 3-point competition. He’s one of nine players who make at least two triples per game while shooting over 40 percent, but easily has the lowest scoring average. Can you say 3-point specialist??? The NBA should reward the veteran with a spot. Being the league leader in Net Rating for most of the season only strengthens his case.

As news starts to trickle out about who’s taking part in the various competitions, let’s hope Toronto gets the recognition it deserves. Until then, let’s make some picks.

January 16 @ Boston Celtics

On November 26, Brad Stevens made a change to his starting lineup, swapping out Jaylen Brown and inserting Marcus Smart. This came a week after replacing Gordon Hayward with Marcus Morris. The Celtics were 10-10 at the time and trying to navigate some early season turbulence.

(Don’t do it, Jay!)

Even though Boston was a top-2 defense (with Indiana) at the time, the Celtics looked very familiar to last season’s Kyrie-less/Hayward-less stagnant offense. These changes were necessary for the pre-season Finals favourite and the ripple effects have been felt, positively, up and down the roster.

(It’s tempting, Jay, but bite your tongue!)

Boston now owns a league-best 11.6 Net Rating in first quarters. A large chunk of that can be attributed to their leader, Kyrie Irving, who has posted a Net Rating of 16.3 since November 26 — which would be tops in the league if done over the entire season. With Irving always looking to push the pace, the Celtics rank no. 1 in transition offense, according to Synergy Sports. This team is trending up and looking like the team we all thought they were.

(Aaahhh, I can’t... any... more!!)

Prediction

The Celtics are 15-7 since November 26. Of their 15 wins, 11(!) have come against teams not above .500. Another two wins over the Hornets (16-15) and Grizzlies (18-16) weren’t really brag-worthy. Only an overtime Christmas Day win over the Sixers and last week’s thrashing of the Pacers would be deemed ‘quality wins’. If anything, those wins are overshadowed by three losses to quality opponents (Bucks, @ Rockets, @ Spurs).

Toronto is starting to click on offense (five consecutive games with double-digits in 3-pointers made, longest streak since early November), and buzzing around on defense (season-high 16 steals on Sunday). With only Jonas Valanciunas out of the lineup (played less than 20 minutes in both matchups this season), this figures to be a good measuring stick for both teams. My prediction may or may not be affected by the Patriots eliminating my Chargers from the NFL playoffs, but the Raptors will shove their way past the Celtics, 114-112.

January 17 vs. Phoenix Suns

I’m not sure what’s more shocking about this Suns team. Quincy Acy has only been in the league since 2012 (even though it feels like 2002), yet he’s the 3rd-longest tenured player on the roster. The most experienced Sun is three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner, Jamal Crawford, who happens to be older than the team’s General Manager, James Jones!

What is not shocking is that one of the league’s youngest teams ranks 28th in Defensive Rating. On the season, Phoenix averages 58.5 contested shots (29th), which isn’t so great when a team like Toronto averages 89.3 field goal attempts. Allowing 30+ uncontested shots per game isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

Outside of Devin Booker’s continued growth (Top-15 in both points and assists per game), Phoenix has a future Blue Devil to ogle over for next season and a former Wildcat to marvel at this season. Deandre Ayton is averaging 16.6 points and 10.7 rebounds, with a .622 TS%. Care to guess which rookies averaged a double-double while shooting at least .600 TS%? Shaq? Barkley? Towns? AD? No, no, no, and no. Buck Williams averaged 15.5/12.3/.603 TS% in ‘81-’82. That’s the list!

Prediction

When these teams faced each other in the desert on November 2, the Raptors had one of their first ‘play-down-to-the-competition’ games of the season. Maybe Toronto was due for a let-down game after trouncing the Sixers on national TV the game before. Maybe Toronto was looking forward to its first date with LeBron’s Lakers the game after. Whatever the excuse, the Raptors will be prepared this time. Even if Kawhi doesn’t play on the back-end of the back-to-back, the Suns may be without Booker (injured back) and, more importantly, are less than three games out of last place (hello ping pong balls) in the NBA. Raptors burn the Suns, 121-107.

January 19 vs. Memphis Grizzlies

How quickly time flies in today’s NBA. Six weeks ago, Toronto visited a Grizzly squad that was occupying the top spot in the West just three days earlier. Fast forward and Memphis are now ahead of only one team in the West — the team I discussed in the previous paragraph.

Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves, Michael Dickerson, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are not walking through those doors, Grizzlies fans! No, the Naismith Cup is no longer... just like Memphis’ playoff hopes. In addition to losing 12 of their last 15 games, the Grizzlies just took a major hit in their wing depth. Canadian Dillon Brooks was lost for the season, due to a torn ligament in his toe, while starting small forward, Kyle Anderson, will miss the next 2-4 weeks with an ankle sprain.

Prediction

In a classic strength vs. strength matchup, Memphis ranks number one in opponents 2-point field goal attempts and makes, while Toronto ranks number two in 2-point field goal percentage. That doesn’t bode particularly well for a team that’s missing its most efficient scorer beneath the arc (Valanciunas at 57.5 FG%). However, the Raptors have done well against teams in the top-10 in Defensive Rating (Memphis ranks 7th), winning their last five (Pacers, Heat, Jazz, Bucks, and Pacers again). Toronto’s already dropped 122 points on Memphis this season (more than any other opponent in regulation). The Raptors slay the Grizzlies 110-98.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 30 - 15 (3 - 0)