It’s been less than a week of NBA basketball, so it comes as no surprise that there are a number of uncertainties with the 25th iteration of the Toronto Raptors. We don’t know who is the team’s fourth man off the bench. We don’t know if this is the beginning of the end for Marc Gasol. We don’t know if Nick Nurse realizes the playoffs ended, so it’s fine to play more than eight players every game.
There are also some things we sorta know. OG Anunoby appears to be ready to make the leap. It may not be a Siakam-esque leap, but a promising one, nonetheless. We sorta know that Fred VanVleet’s NBA Finals MVP vote was not a flash in the pan. In hindsight, we all sorta knew that, regardless of how last season ended, Kyle Lowry will still end up on the wrong end of an official’s whistle.
Despite all these uncertainties and half-certainties, there is one absolute truth that we can all be certain of — the Toronto Raptors are defending, reigning, world champions!
Now let’s get to this week’s games!
October 28 vs. Orlando Magic
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
Orlando projects to have a solid defense with Top-5 potential, but below-average offense. They could have two All-Stars (Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic), but will probably “only” land one. The Magic’s backup point guard, Markelle Fultz, may be the biggest indicator of over or underachieving for this playoff contender.
Toronto figures to have a better offense, but replace the names in the previous paragraph with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet, and the thought of a first round playoff rematch doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Heck, both teams even have high-energy fire-starters on their bench named Terence!
VanVleet probably hated facing the Magic more than any other opponent last season. He played in seven of the team’s eight meetings (missing one because of injury), including playoffs, last season. Of those seven, FVV only scored in double-digits in two games — the season-worst 39-point loss, and Game One of the playoffs, also a loss. The bigger Magic guards frustrated VanVleet and may do so again. Toronto was a much deeper team last season and were able to overcome his struggles in the playoffs.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Aaron Gordon is younger than new Raptors, Matt Thomas and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, as well as returning Raptors, Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam. Why does it feel like he’s been in the league for much longer?
The aforementioned FVV issue notwithstanding, Toronto was able to complete the douchebag sweep because Marc Gasol absolutely shut down Vucevic. Gasol may look a little slower out the gate, but his problems appear to be more on the offensive side. As long as he’s able to disrupt Vucevic, Orlando may have PTSD thinking about a Raptors squad that defeated them by an average of 21+ points over Games 2-5. Toronto continues showing their championship mettle and defeat the Magic 104-98.
October 30 vs. Detroit Pistons
When your team is the defending champs, it’s expected to have the bullseye on your back, regardless of the opponent. It rarely, if ever, is vice versa where the defending champ is the team looking to exact revenge.
Such is the case with Toronto and Detroit. Dwane Casey’s troops swept the season series last year — the only East team to accomplish that feat. The Raptors lost at the buzzer in their only home game against Casey. A couple months later, there was another heartbreaker in Detroit, where Marc Gasol missed an open look at a buzzer-beater, only for Toronto to fall in overtime. Two weeks later, the teams finished with yet another tight game, ending in a narrow three point win for Detroit on their home court.
Things figure to be different this time. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are gone. But so is Blake Griffin, who’s out until early November. Also missing is Casey’s foot... as it disappeared into his mouth last week.
After famously taking a jab at the Raptors last season for having “never tasted” a championship, the former Raptors head coach made it a point to mention that Toronto’s success was a product of his time with the team.
Classy move, coach. If you backtrack any more, you might stumble into Lake Michigan!
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
On this date, 18 years ago, Raptor killer, Joe Johnson, made his NBA debut. After a brief preseason stint with the Pistons, he was waived by Detroit and currently where every Raptor fan is happy to see him... unemployed.
It’s early in the season, but Toronto ranks #1 in opponent FG%, while Detroit ranks #3 in FG%. The Pistons shoot very well, mainly because of Andre Drummond and Derrick Rose. Drummond is a beast and plays as such when he’s up against Toronto, averaging 14 points and 15 rebounds. Rose, on the other hand, has started the season hot because he’s faced a Pacer team with no Victor Oladipo, and a Hawks team with Trae Young’s “defense”. Griffin’s absence has further illuminated a known fact - you can’t succeed in this league if Rose is your leading scorer. Toronto shreds Detroit to the tune of 105-99.
November 2 @ Milwaukee Bucks
Not the greatest stretch for Milwaukee. The Raptors are sandwiched between six road games. This is the second game of a home-and-away back-to-back, as the Bucks would’ve played in Orlando the night before. After facing the Raps, Milwaukee embarks on a 4-game West road trip that includes dates with the undefeated Clippers and... [checks sheet again] ...Timberwolves!?!?!
Nonetheless, Toronto’s in for a dogfight. The last time the Raptors were at Fiserv Forum, the legend of Fred VanVleet Sr. was born and the Bucks were one loss away from being eliminated. (Spoiler alert: they did end up losing one more time!) The Bucks, and their fans, will be looking to exact a little bit of revenge on the defending champs. Milwaukee blitzed Toronto (and the rest of the league) with their 3-point shooting last season. In all four regular season meetings, the Bucks hit at least 14(!) triples in each matchup.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
The slogan “Fear the Deer” was, apparently, not created by the Bucks organization or its fans, but from ESPN anchor, John Anderson. Hey Giannis! While your team lucked into a catchy phrase, our team worked with one of the best advertising agencies in the market to create “We The North.” Come join the Raptors and we’ll show you what hard work can lead to.
The Bucks have a lot to prove this season. Defeating the Raptors in November may not be as significant in the grand scheme of things, but it’ll go a long way in securing a good seed and setting themselves up for higher heights.
Much was made last season of Nurse’s adjustment mid-series, putting Kawhi on Giannis. The switch worked to perfection as the Raptors would go on to win the series. Kawhi limited Giannis to 35% shooting, but other Raptors contibuted to slowing down the Greek Freak. Siakam and Gasol each forced seven turnovers when guarding Antetokounmpo, while Ibaka kept him at 29% FG%.
As much as I think the Raptors could pull off the win, I will hedge my bets and predict a Toronto loss, 102-99, to Milwaukee.