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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Nov. 18-24

The West Coast road trip is over! Bring on the dregs of the Eastern Conference!

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Question: When is 5 / 14 shooting and 7 turnovers considered a good game?

Answer: When you’re a superstar facing the Raptors’ vaunted D!!

Toronto completed its toughest road trip of the season — a five-game Western Conference gauntlet that included both title favourites in Tinseltown, last season’s other Conference Finalist, and this season’s playoff sleeper.

The road swing kicked off in New Orleans, where Pelicans’ top scorer Brandon Ingram shot 40% and scored 27 points... but was a -25 by night’s end. On the first night of a Staples Center back-to-back, OG Anunoby put the clamps on LeBron James, helping limit the future Hall of Famer to 5-for-15 shooting and a season low 13 points. Less than 24 hours later, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — whose Raptors career was a grand total of 3:59 before the game — disrupted and disturbed former Raptors saviour Kawhi Leonard to the tune of 2-for-11 shooting and a career-worst nine turnovers.

Two nights later in Portland, it was Fred VanVleet’s turn to shine at the defensive end, giving Damian Lillard the Steph-Curry-in-the-Finals treatment, holding him to a season-low nine points on 2-for-12 shooting — breaking his 230-game streak of double digit scoring. To wrap up the trip, OG and RHJ kept Luka Doncic to 5-for-14 shooting, while forcing him to commit seven turnovers.

As impressive as each of those individual matchups turned out, the team managed to win three of five — all without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. The last time Toronto finished over .500 on a west coast road trip was November 2001!

Now the Raptors return to the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena to face two teams with zero players that average 20+ points per game, before flying to Atlanta and facing a third consecutive Southeast team with a sub .500 record.

Home sweet home! Now onto this week’s games.

November 18 vs. Charlotte Hornets

Alright, Charlotte, that’s enough clutch wins for the week, ya hear?

The Hornets are coming off consecutive wins that came down to the wire. On Friday, it was a Malik Monk buzzer-beater, followed by a Devonte Graham game-winner with two seconds left the following night. Raptor fans don’t need reminders about Charlotte winning games at the buzzer!

With Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missing all but three games combined this season, coach James Borrego has had to get creative with his lineups. As recent victories are proving, the back court of Graham and Terry Rozier is having positive effects on both players. Unfortunately, all positive signs are on the offensive end. Defensively, they’re smaller and easier for opponents to pick on.

If we take away those two fluke wins (yes, I’m still bitter), the Raptors had won the previous five matchups. Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb are not walking through that door. Instead, Charlotte’s front court includes a Zeller, a Bridges, a Williams, and a Hernangomez... and I honestly don’t know if they’re the better or worse versions of their last name!

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Hornets owner Michael Jordan purchased the team for $180 million in 2010. The team is currently valued at $1.5 billion. Say what you will about how poorly this franchise has been run, but MJ’s the one laughing all the way to the bank.

Prediction

Toronto’s offence is average at best (14th in ORTG and 13th in scoring) and has struggled at times in Lowry and Ibaka’s absence. Thankfully, Charlotte has a bottom-ten defence (DRTG and points allowed) while also turning the ball over at a bottom-ten rate. Those turnovers should fuel the league’s best transition offence into some easy points. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Pascal Siakam is absolutely going to cook (Dwayne) Bacon. Toronto prevails easily over Charlotte, 120-108.

November 20 vs. Orlando Magic

In the latest episode of Open Gym, Terence Davis is taken to a sneaker convention. He interacts with some of the fans and eventually plays a game of knockout with a few lucky participants (spoiler alert: he didn’t win). What’s worse than losing a game of knockout to a random fan? How about spraining your ankle at a similar event? That’s exactly what happened to Jonathan Isaac.

The Magic unveiled their new Nike City Edition jerseys on Thursday night, after which Isaac and his teammates interacted with fans while hanging out near an area with a court and hoop. Apparently Isaac, who had sprained that same ankle in his rookie season, did not tie his shoes, nor was he wearing his ankle brace.

It’s an unfortunate break for Orlando, as Isaac has lived up to all the pre-season hype with outstanding shooting splits (49.5% / 39.5% / 91.3%) and sublime defence (second in blocks with 2.8 per game). As one of the rare defenders with success against Siakam, Isaac’s progress with his ankle will go a long way in helping Orlando in this matchup.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon — you know, the Magic’s two best players — shot a combined 2-for-19 from the field and scored seven points total during the team’s earlier meeting on October 28. Vucevic was so ineffective that coach Steve Clifford kept him on the bench for the final 15+ minutes. Vooch is still seeing Marc Gasol in his nightmares!

Prediction

Orlando has one of the worst offences — 29th in points per 100 possessions, 29th in FG% on open threes; 28th in free throw rate - but one of the best defences (#1 in opponents PPG). If Isaac is anything less than 100% (or if he doesn’t play at all), that’s a win for the Raptors. With Toronto missing some offensive weapons, and both teams firmly entrenched as top-5 defences, this promises to be a low-scoring affair. At least Toronto has some semblance of an offence. Raptors make it two in a row this season against the Magic, winning 98-95.

November 23 @ Atlanta Hawks

With up-and-comer John Collins suspended due to violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug policy, the Hawks are currently fielding a front court of Alex Len (who can’t play defence), Damian Jones (who can’t play offence), Bruno Fernando (who needs more seasoning in the G-League), and Jabari Parker (yes, he is their crunch-time five).

In the back court, we already know about Trae Young and his amazing talents. He’s averaging 26.6 points and 8.8 assists. Those numbers were achieved by LeBron two seasons ago, and also by James Harden and Russell Westbrook the season before. But before those three, you’d have to go all the way back to the ‘72-’73 season with Tiny Archibald getting those numbers.

Unfortunately for Trae, Atlanta doesn’t have a second initiator. Cam Reddish is too young and inexperienced. Kevin Huerter is out for two weeks with rotator cuff issues. Evan Turner is... Evan Turner.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

With seven straight wins in this matchup, Toronto has a chance to tie the overall series with Atlanta. The Hawks currently own a 45-44 edge head-to-head. It’s been a long road back after the Raptors lost the first 12 games against Atlanta.

Prediction

Toronto is number one in the league in opponent’s FG% and number two in opponent’s two-point FG%. Where they struggle, is beyond the arc, ranking 23rd in 3PT FG made and 28th in 3PT FG attempted. Luckily, Atlanta isn’t a threat beyond the arc. The Hawks are 29th in 3PT FG% and two of their best non-Trae-Young bombers are Huerter and Collins. Toronto should win this fairly easily, 122-107. What will keep this interesting is a) Vince Carter and b) watching VanVleet defend Young.

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Season Record for Predictions: 8 - 4