Welcome to Super Bowl Week! Where every minute detail is over-blown. Where each word uttered by each player becomes a referendum on said player and his team/teammate/coach/GM. Where all the failings of your past get brought back to the forefront.
Damn, that sure sounds like a regular week for the Toronto Raptors.
When the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams kick off on Sunday, it will mark the second consecutive Boston-LA final among the four major sports. The Red Sox defeated the Dodgers in the World Series three months ago. Boston and Los Angeles media personnel are certainly licking their chops at a potential Celtics-Lakers finals.
Too bad it won’t! It’s not even because Golden State will sleep-walk their way through the West. It’s because there are clearly two teams better than the Celtics — as has been the case all season.
With the Raptors not playing until Thursday, every minute detail that comes out of the next Raptors practice will be over-blown. Each word that’s uttered by Lowry will become a referendum on how he feels about Kawhi. Past playoff failures will re-surface for a Raptors squad that’s almost universally known as the 1-seed that couldn’t get by Lebron.
January 31 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Remember that lovely Raptors victory at Milwaukee three weeks ago? Of course you do. Toronto was playing without Kyle Lowry. Toronto was coming off an embarrassing loss to the Spurs — the first meeting between DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green against their former teammates — on national TV, no less. Toronto entered the game with as many wins as losses (5 each) since their at-the-time signature victory in Golden State.
How did the Raptors respond?
Bucks shoot 49%, hit 14 triples, out score the Raps by double digits in the paint, while holding the bench to 5 points on 1-15 shooting. Oh, and Giannis hits 3 triples and drops 44 & 18......oh and also....TORONTO STILL WON IN MILWAUKEE! #FearNotHere— Jay Rosales (@Rosalesaurus) January 6, 2019
That game appears to have been a turning point for both teams. Toronto would go on to win eight of their next nine and (temporarily) reclaim their spot atop the NBA standings. Milwaukee went a step further by dialling in on D. The Bucks have had the best defensive rating in the NBA since that January 5th game — 100.4 rating vs. the next best rating of 102.6 (Jazz). It’s a scary thought that the team that had the best offense for the first six weeks of the season, has now had the best defense for the last six weeks! (Pretty crazy it’s not the Warriors I’m referring to.)
The Raptors are almost entering uncharted territory with this game. For starters, it’s rare for the Raptors to need a game more than their opponent. A victory would even the season series at two apiece. Also, Toronto will be coming off three days of rest, which has only happened once this season (during Christmas), and will only happen once again (All-Star break). Toronto’s starting front court has absolutely feasted on the Bucks in all three matchups this season (except for the first when Kawhi sat out).
If they learned anything from that impressive win earlier this month, the Raptors will play Giannis straight up on his drives and limit his play-making opportunities. The last time these two met in Toronto, the Raptors shot a grand total of seven free throws (Milwaukee had 20) and lost by five. The lack of whistles and absence of a victory are not going to happen again in Scotiabank Arena. Toronto charges the Bucks, winning 117-113.
February 3 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Two days rest. Both games are at home. No back-to-backs until March. Great! Kawhi Leonard can suit up for a run-of-the-mill matchup with... [checks schedule]
Rancho Santa Fe, where Kawhi Leonard has reportedly bought a home, is a 2.5 hour drive from Staples Center. It’s not like he would be staying there during the season even if he played in LA. That would be like playing in Toronto and living in Kingston. Means nothing.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 25, 2019
It’s a blessing in disguise that the L.A. Rams are in the Super Bowl and playing on the same day, because Los Angeles sports media would be talking ad nauseum over Kawhi’s recent purchase of a home in Southern California, mere months before his free agency decision. In addition to the Kawhi-to-LA flaw indicated above by Josh Lewenberg, allow me to add a couple more.
Even if Kawhi wasn’t born in L.A., the appeal of purchasing a home in Southern California makes sense. Between the Drew League and UCLA Rec Center, many NBA players spend their Summer training and playing with each other in Los Angeles.
Lots of NBA players own summer homes outside of the city they play in, such as our very own Raptors — Kyle Lowry (Philadelphia), C.J. Miles (San Antonio), Serge Ibaka (Orlando), and Fred VanVleet (Rockford), to name a few (Source: Kelsea O’Brien and her information-gathering Minions)
Kawhi reportedly spent $13.3MM on this house in San Diego. His salary this season is $23.1MM. The average salary in Toronto is $58,522. If you could buy a summer home in California for $33,694... wouldn’t you?!?
Kawhi gets his first look at the Clippers (and not just Lawrence Frank for once). Los Angeles will be playing on the back-end of a back-to-back after playing in Detroit. It’s also the beginning of a season-high six-game road trip for the Clippers, who are dealing with injuries to Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Toronto blitzed Doc Rivers’ squad when they first met on December 11, jumping out to a 36-23 first quarter lead and never looking back.
Whether or not the Raptors get out to a hot start, having Kawhi in the lineup to shut down Gallo or potential All-Star, Tobias Harris, is a luxury most teams would die for. After Toronto clips Los Angeles 118 - 109, Kawhi announces he has signed an extension with the Raptors, and the Rancho Santa Fe purchase is actually for his daughter.