“Thanks again for following along all season. Now, on to the most important playoffs in franchise history!”
That was the last sentence I wrote in the final edition of The Rap-Up last season. Who knew that statement would soon become “one of the greatest accomplishments in Canadian Sports history.”
The defending champions enter the season with a (dip-less) chip on its shoulder. The respect typically bestowed onto reigning champions went out the door and straight to Los Angeles, leaving the Raptors as afterthoughts in most prognostications. As they’ve done for 24 consecutive seasons, Toronto have visions of proving their American counterparts wrong. For the first time in the franchise’s history, they’ll be doing it with the gold patch on the jersey!
Pascal Siakam — ahem, newly extended, Pascal Siakam — will step into his role as #1 scorer. Just as he did 20+ times last season when Kawhi Leonard sat. Just as he did in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Just as he did in the title-clinching Game 6 at Oracle Arena. Marc Gasol will have a full season under Nick Nurse’s system to slice up defenses with his outstanding court vision and bark out assignments on the defensive end. Norm Powell will finally have the chance to solidify a starting role.
I could go through each and every player, but the point is... IT’S TIME TO GET EXCITED BECAUSE TORONTO IS HOME TO THE LARRY OB!!
October 22 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Sorry TNT! Not only were you getting a ratings dip from having a Canadian team kick off the season, but the main attraction on court (Zion Williamson) is now out with a knee injury.
TNT execs tipping off the season with Pelicans/Raptors...without Zion pic.twitter.com/iOGQPeNtgK— Hyphen (@DJHyphen) October 18, 2019
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of 37 million Canadians not giving a damn!
We will cheer as every Raptor gets introduced and receive their championship ring. We will cheer when Kyle Lowry grabs the mic, thanks the fans, and gives the signal to unveil the championship banner - which is when our cheering will be deafening. We will cheer heavily when the first substitution, Fred VanVleet, checks into the game. We will cheer when Serge Ibaka blocks a Derrick Favors layup attempt, then cheer louder when he gives Favors two thumbs down. We will cheer when newly anointed, human victory cigar, Matt Thomas checks in as the Raps are blowing out the Pelicans. We will cheer much louder when Thomas hits his first triple, then progressively louder with each subsequent three he makes.
We will cheer into the night, “WE THE CHAMPS”, until our voices become hoarse, and cheer all season long when each U.S. network has to preface “Toronto Raptors” with “defending champion”!
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
With Frank Jackson, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, and Jahlil Okafor suiting up, Zion’s absence prevents New Orleans from rolling out the All-Duke lineup.
Since Masai Ujiri signed on with the Raptors in 2013, Toronto has won each of their season openers - all at home. Yes, the Pelicans won in Toronto last season, but that was a very different New Orleans squad with Anthony Davis running amok on Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Even Raptor killer, E’Twaun Moore will have troubles scoring, as he’ll face a steady diet of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. The adrenaline rush of the ring/banner ceremony will fuel the team, while the chemistry built over the magical playoff run (and very evident during their final preseason game) should propel the Raptors to a season-opening victory, 105 - 89. Not a typo. The Raptors will hold last season’s 3rd-highest scoring team (115.4 ppg) under 90 points.
October 25 @ Boston Celtics
The Celtics are supposed to be good this year, right? Sure, they were preseason title favourites a year ago, only to end the season on the wrong end of a douchebag sweep. But this is going to be the bounceback season in Beantown. They’ve replaced their offensively-gifted, defensively-putrid point guard (Kyrie Irving) with an... offensively-gifted, defensively-putrid point guard (Kemba Walker)! The departure of former All-NBA and All-Defensive Team glue guy, Al Horford, was mitigated by the addition of... [scrolls down depth chart] ...Enes Kanter. You could make the case that Jayson Tatum is due for a bounceback season. Same for Gordon Hayward, who’s been receiving rave reviews from the coaching staff. But couldn’t you say the same about Anunoby? Isn’t Siakam’s continued rise to stardom just as big, if not a bigger factor in comparing these two squads? What about Marcus Smart? What does he have to say?
Marcus Smart on his position: “I’m a stretch 6. That’s what I call myself.”— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 19, 2019
O... K... you can probably guess which direction I’m going with predictions in a couple paragraphs.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Outside of Kemba, the other roster addition that made headlines in Celtics land was the drafting of Tacko Fall. The 7’5” Senegalese Center has gigantic hands, measuring at 10.5 inches in length and width. Astonishingly, that’s still not as wide as former Raptor, Kawhi Leonard’s hands (11.25 inches), and future Raptor, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands (12 inches).
The home team has won the last 11 games between these two. So, why do I think that streak ends? Because Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, and an under-sized Tatum, are all going to have their hands full with Marc Gasol, Ibaka, and Siakam. Toronto’s bigs will feast and lead the Raptors to a 110-98 victory.
October 26 @ Chicago Bulls
It’s the first back-to-back of the season. Will we see any load management for Lowry or Gasol? We probably won’t know until game day, but this post is due for Monday morning, so I’m assuming they play.
This Bulls team has some interesting pieces and have the potential to surprise people. They have a stable of good young guards - Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Coby White — a solid wing in Otto Porter (when did he drop “Jr”?), and a frontcourt with breakout potential — Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. — mentored by 12-year vet, Thaddeus Young, who was one of the few forwards to slow down Siakam last season.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
This is one of the weirdest rivalries in sports. From 1997 to 2006, the Raptors lost eight in a row, then immediately followed that by beating the Bulls 16 times in a row, only to follow up that streak with 15 consecutive losses! In February 2014, the Bulls started what would eventually become 11 straights wins over the Raptors. Toronto has answered by winning the next nine matchups (which takes us to this game).
Based on the aforementioned fun fact, the Raptors should prevail. Also take into account that, at the ripe old age of 26, Porter has more NBA experience than anyone on the team (except Young). That’s a whole lot of youth running into a whole lot of championship pedigree. Raptors edge the plucky Bulls, 103-99.