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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Jan. 7-13

The unofficial second half of the season kicks off for the Raptors with a home game where the visitors might have more fans.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Timing is everything.

If this weekly article posted every Friday instead of Monday, the narrative (and my mood) would be fairly dark and mostly negative. Thankfully, that’s not the case. This is not being written after the San Antonio Spurs absolutely spanked the Raptors on national TV in the much-anticipated first meeting of the season between DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard. This is being written just as Toronto put a bow on a perfect weekend. One in which they reclaimed the top spot in the East by beating their two closest rivals, record-wise, on back-to-back nights!

The timing between the end of Saturday’s win in Milwaukee and the start of Sunday’s home win vs. Indiana was so small that you probably missed the exact halfway point of the Raptors’ regular season. That’s what’s interesting about timing. It can help you and hurt you in so many different ways.

Take the Toronto Raptors. The timing of their schedule has not been ideal thus far. Toronto has played more games than every team in the NBA. Only Utah and New York have played more road games to this point. The Raptors have already played 10 of the 15 Western Conference teams on their home court. Toronto has played their longest road trips (four games on three separate occasions), completed seven of their 11 3-games-in-4-nights instances, and just capped off their eighth back-to-back out of 12 this season (with a 7-1 record on the second night, by the way).

And yet, Toronto has the best record in the NBA.

Milwaukee still has two 5-game road trips left. Philadelphia has yet to face any of the top three West teams (DEN, GSW, OKC). Boston hasn’t had their California road trip yet. Indiana has the most ridiculous schedule in mid-March — @MIL, @PHI, NYK, OKC, @DEN, @POR, @LAC, @GSW, DEN, @OKC, @BOS.

Not bad timing to be a Raptors fan right now!

January 8 vs. Atlanta Hawks

Let me get this straight. Linsanity AND Vinsanity are coming to Scotiabank Arena? Can somebody warn Kawhi Leonard that, while this is technically a home game, it may sound at times like they’re playing in State Farm Arena in Atlanta? Actually, that’s not true. The Hawks rank dead last in attendance. If anything, this game may feature the most cheering they’ve heard all season!

All jokes aside, there’s a lot to like about this Atlanta team, outside of the aforementioned cultural icons of Toronto. John Collins is one of only eight players averaging at least 18 points and 10 rebounds. Trae Young is one of only 11 players averaging 15 points and 7 assists. Collins is 21, Young is 20. The future is bright in the A.T.L.

With Atlanta out of the playoff picture, they have a couple of assets that playoff teams could be looking to acquire before next month’s trade deadline. Lin, Carter, and Dewayne Dedmon have all been leapfrogged on the depth chart by their younger teammates and, more importantly, all have expiring contracts. Look for each of them to showcase what they can provide to a playoff contender like the Raptors. Kent Bazemore is also an intriguing trade candidate, but he’s sidelined with an ankle injury.

Prediction

The Hawks run at a quicker pace than any other team. They rank fourth in deflections, second in loose balls recovered, and 30th in turnovers. In other words, they’re “handsy” on defense but clumsy on offense. This should work in Toronto’s favour as they rank 10th in steals. Atlanta will be playing on the front-end of a back-to-back. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lloyd Pierce (that’s the name of their Head Coach; seriously, I googled it) gives his starters some early rest if the game is getting out of hand. Toronto swoop past the Hawks, 120-98.

January 11 vs. Brooklyn Nets

Revenge game alert! The Nets ended a 12-game losing streak to the Raptors on December 7 with an unexpected 106-105 overtime win in Brooklyn. The post-game excuses poured in from all directions — playing too relaxed after thumping the Sixers (again); looking forward to the Bucks rematch (which Toronto lost at home); off-game for Kyle Lowry (1-of-8 from the field and 1-of-7 from three). At the end of the day, it’s a loss. One in which Toronto would surely like to have back.

This time around, Brooklyn will be without two starters (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Allen Crabbe). Missing two starters is normally bad news for any team, but the insertion of Rodions Kurucs (pronounced RO-dee-ahns KOO-rukes) has helped keep the Nets afloat. Brooklyn has won nine of 12 since Kurucs joined the starters. The 40th pick from last year’s draft was acquired in a trade with DeMarre Carroll for Justin Hamilton... with the Toronto Raptors.

Prediction

In today’s NBA, it’s normally seen as a positive when a team allows the second-most mid-range shots (16.7), as the Nets do. However, the Raptors rank third in 2-point makes and rank second in 2-point FG%. Brooklyn is dangerous beyond the arc. They rank fourth in makes and attempts from 3. Over their last four games, they’ve averaged 15 made 3-pointers. The Raptors haven’t allowed an opponent to make that many triples over any of the last 14 games. As long as Toronto continues their recent effort on 3-point defense, the Raptors should be able to splash the Nets, 112-108.

January 13 @ Washington Wizards

Toronto is already 2-0 against Washington this season with sights set on a third win. Since they last met on November 23, the Wizards... lost John Wall for the season... traded his backup, Austin Rivers (plus Kelly Oubre) just days before Wall’s injury... doubled their total of wins (2) over +.500 opponents (vs. Rockets (OT), Nov. 26; vs. Lakers, Dec. 16).

Here’s the kicker. Washington should be dreaming of a future with a Blue Devil (Zion, R.J., Cam;take your pick), but the bottom of the East is bad enough that the Wizards are only three games out of a playoff spot. As a Raptors fan who still cringes at the thought of past playoff failures against the Wizards, it brings me nothing but joy to watch Washington die a slow death.

Oh, and now they’re listening to Bradley Beal trade offers. (Masai’s a genius but there’s no way he pulls off something that’ll please Raptor fans there.)

Prediction

There was one game last season (Feb. 1) where Washington was able to pull out a close victory at home without Wall over Toronto. But that was a long time ago. Before Toronto acquired Kawhi and Danny. Before Washington plummeted to 26th in 3-point FG% allowed. Before Toronto went on a recent hot streak beyond the arc (see: Bucks, Milwaukee; see: Pacers, Indiana). I think I’ve used up my wizardry/magician puns for the year: the Raptors wash away the Wizards, 125-113.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 27 - 15 (2 - 2)