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The Rap-Up: Time to hand out some awards

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As we hit December, it’s time to reflect on the first quarter of the season before previewing the games of the week for December 2-8.

Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks 126-98 Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

We’re a game and a half away from reaching exactly 25 percent of the regular season schedule.

Yes, it still feels like yesterday when the Larry OB sat on a table at courtside, while fireworks went off and the championship banner was unveiled. Since then, Toronto has continued to show why they’re the defending, reigning NBA champions, with statement victories over the Lakers, Sixers, and Jazz.

Feel free to carry the conversation into the comment section, but here is my quarter-season award winners for the team:

MVP: Pascal Siakam

MIP: Siakam

ROQ (Rookie of the Quarter): Terence Davis

DPOQ: OG Anunoby

6MOQ: Davis

Most likely to get snubbed for an All-Star selection: Fred VanVleet

Most likely to get paid this off-season: VanVleet

Most likely to be traded by the deadline: Norman Powell

Defensive play of the quarter: Chris Boucher’s two-hand block on Montrezl Harrell’s dunk attempt

Offensive play of the quarter: Siakam breaking Anthony Davis’ ankles

Any and all of these choices are debatable, so please send in your selections. I’m also writing this at an ungodly hour, so I’m very likely forgetting someone or some play.

Now on to the second quarter of the season!

December 3 vs. Miami Heat

Happy Kelly Olynyk tribute video day!

The Heat have a top-5 defense, despite dealing with missed games from their All-Star guard, Jimmy Butler (parental), and key role players, James Johnson (suspension) and Dion Waiters (stupidity).

The Raptors have a top-5 defense, despite dealing with missed games from their All-Star guard, Kyle Lowry (thumb), and key role players, Serge Ibaka (ankle) and OG Anunoby (a.k.a. Mr. Glass).

Miami’s offense is effective because of efficient shooting (#1 in True Shooting %) and a balanced offense predicated on ball movement (#9 in Assist % and #9 in Assist Ratio).

Toronto’s offensive is effective because of efficient shooting (#4 in TS%) and a balanced offense predicated on ball movement (#6 in AST % and #7 in AST Ratio).

Miami has surpassed preseason expectations with a Coach of the Year candidate, Erik Spoelstra, a young stud, Bam Adebayo, and the surprising play of an undrafted guard, Kendrick Nunn.

Toronto has surpassed preseason expectations with a Coach of the Year candidate, Nick Nurse, a young stud, Pascal Siakam, and the surprising play of an undrafted guard, Fred VanVleet.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Butler has built a reputation as a Raptor Killer over the years. While that may have been true in his Chicago days, Jimmy Buckets has now lost five of his last six regular season meetings with Toronto. His matchup with Anunoby / RHJ / Siakam will be very interesting to watch, especially with Toronto’s recent stretch of shutting down opposing superstars.

Prediction

Spiderman meme aside, the teams also have similar home/away splits, with perfect home records and slightly-above-.500 road records. With this game in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena, the edge has to go to the defending champs. The possibility of Kyle Lowry’s return makes a Raptors victory even more likely. Raps extinguish the Heat, 115-105.

December 5 vs. Houston Rockets

Daryl Morey’s famed philosophy, Moreyball, was born from a heavy dose of analytics, concluding that mid-range shots should be completely replaced by 3-point attempts. Dating back to as far as the NBA.com/stats will allow, 2013-14 season, the Rockets has always led the league in 3-point FG Frequency. If you add that number to the their 2-point FGs within 10 feet (i.e. not mid-rangers), 91.2 percent of Houston’s field goals are either 10 feet from the basket or behind the arc! The next closest team, at 88.7 percent, is the Toronto Raptors.

How these teams’ shot distribution is only one part of the story. While the Rockets are the most efficient team behind the arc, the Raptors are still in the top 6-9, depending on where the 3-pointer is taken. However, the Raptors are incredibly more efficient than that Rockets at the rim.

Is it possible the Raptors are out-Moreyballing the Rockets?

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Unlike when he’s facing his hometown 76ers, Lowry has had his difficulties with Houston — his home for 3.5 seasons before arriving in Toronto. His scoring is the second-lowest (12.5 points) and his net rating (-12) is the lowest against any team.

Prediction

This is like dejavu with the Miami Heat prediction, but the splits are even more glaring with the Rockets. Houston is 5-4 on the road, with all five victories against teams below .500 and all four losses against teams above .500. Toronto has done other-worldly defensive efforts on Nikola Vucevic, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. If this were a video game, James Harden would be the final boss. The standard of defensive excellence was against Milwaukee, when the Bucks held The Beard to a season-low 19 points on 2/13 shooting. Otherwise, he’s scored at least 27 points in every other game! For context, Siakam’s average is 25.6 per game. Until proven otherwise, the home / road records for the respective teams are what they are. With Nurse’s proven ability to game plan around shutting down superstars, this has the makings of a classic! Toronto edges Houston, 120-118.

December 8 @ Philadelphia 76ers

After surviving (and thriving in) their west coast road trip, the Raptors have a very home-heavy December, with only two tough road games. This will be one of those tough ones.

Philadelphia — more specifically, Embiid — will have revenge on their minds. Toronto shut out the Sixers over the final 4:03 of their earlier victory over Philly. All of the pre-game talk will center around Embiid and how he bounces back. What got lost in the shuffle with their earlier matchup, was Toronto’s continued success defending Ben Simmons.

I’ve got something a little weirder for my “fun fact,” but these Simmons stats are quite remarkable. In his rookie season, Toronto was one of three teams to force Simmons into a season-high seven turnovers. Last season, the Raptors forced him to commit seven turnovers in one game and a career-high (low?) 11(!!) turnovers (both games in Toronto) in another. This season, Toronto is the clubhouse leader as the only team to force him into seven turnovers in a single game.

Sometimes a tweet can say everything you want it to say.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

With Ibaka back in the lineup, Nurse has the unenviable job of finding the right minutes distribution. One possible casualty is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It’s unlikely to happen, at least not dramatically, but if Nurse needs more convincing, then look no further than RHJ’s play vs. the Eastern Conference.

In seven games vs. East foes, when RHJ plays, the Raptors win. In fact, dating back to last season with the Nets, his last two losses were to Toronto and Philadelphia.

Prediction

If I’m going to use home/road splits for the previous predictions, then I should probably remain consistent with this one. Keyword is ‘should.” Toronto has a fairly average road record (6-4), while Philadelphia is perfect (9-0) at home. Some may hope to catch a tired Miami squad playing the back-end of a back-to-back, as well as the third game in four nights. However, when Philly was in that position last week, they swept the three games and topped it off with a 27-point drubbing of the Heat. The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Philly wins this round with Toronto, 109-98.

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Season Record for Predictions: 14-5