As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year and the decade that was.
Do you remember where you were when a little-known rookie, Norm Powell, stole the ball from Paul George in the 2016 playoffs, leading to a breakaway dunk and, eventually, a series victory over the Pacers?
No one will forget where they were when Pascal Siakam euro-stepped around Draymond Green and hit the final Raptors field goal before claiming the title!
What were you doing when the news broke that Marc Gasol was traded to Toronto?
Now that you’re done reminiscing, think about where each of them are now. Yes, they’re all on the bench because they’re all injured. It’s a difficult pill to swallow. You hate to see it.
The good news is that this week’s schedule includes... [checks schedule] ...an over-achieving Indiana squad, an over achieving Boston squad, and, ahem, an overachieving Oklahoma City squad. Ouch!
December 23 @ Indiana Pacers
These are the kind of games where you really wish Norm Powell wasn’t injured! For no other reason than to replay this:
8) Norman Powell vs. Pacers (2016) pic.twitter.com/SLi5b5Yhpo— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) December 14, 2019
Let’s see what we have here: Road game less than 24 hours after an emotional, hard-fought game the previous night (CHECK); Next game has both historical impact and present-season implications (CHECK); Two of Pacers’ three home losses were to title favourites, Bucks and Clippers. Otherwise, Indiana’s an excellent home team. (CHECK)
Yep, we’ve got ourselves a trap game!
Good news for Raptors fans is that Jeremy Lamb [shudders] is battling a groin injury and may not play. Victor Oladipo is still sidelined with the ruptured quad tendon he injured during the Raptors’ last visit to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In addition to this game being the first of four between East playoff teams, this also marks the first time Toronto sees Malcolm Brogdon. If you’ve forgotten the impact Brogdon had in Milwaukee during the Eastern Conference Finals, then congratulations — and let me know who your hypnotist is!
Nate McMillan has done an excellent job getting his players ready, night in and night out. The Pacers have one of the best shooting percentages from the line and beyond the arc (So do the Raptors!). Indiana’s defense prides itself as one of the stingiest in opponents 2-pt FG%, 3-pt FG%, and FG%, in general (wait, the Raptors do well there too!!). The last time Toronto played a team with a similar profile, they lost handily to the Miami Heat. That doesn’t bode well for Nick Nurse’s short-handed squad.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Brogdon’s Offensive BPM (3.7) is higher than D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Jokic, and Anthony Davis! Aren’t you glad the Bucks let him go so that they could throw more money at Eric Bledsoe?
Trap game potential aside, Toronto has played very well against Indiana over the latter half of this decade. The Raptors have won 14 out of the last 18 meetings. Unfortunately, all four of those losses have been on the road, including the aforementioned Oladipo-injury game in January. Until Toronto gets healthy (it’s really getting ridiculous how many injuries there are), they’ll continue struggling against stiffer competition. Raps fall to the Pacers, 105-94.
December 25 vs. Boston Celtics
December 28 @ Boston Celtics
These are the kind of games where you really wish Pascal Siakam wasn’t injured!
You could say that for any game where Spicy P is missing, but Boston always brings out the best/worst of us. With Jayson Tatum scoring a career-high 39 points against Charlotte, the “Tatum’s better than Siakam” crowd have some ammunition to last them the holiday season.
Coming into the season, Tatum was very much in the same boat as Siakam. Kyrie Irving’s departure left an opening for the role of primary scorer. Just as Toronto fans have seen Siakam take up the challenge, increasing his usage percentage, maintaining his efficient scoring (somehow), and improving his scoring numbers, Tatum has also risen to the occasion.
Keep an eye on Boston’s big off-season acquisition, Kemba Walker. When he plays at home, his points per game are five points higher than when he plays on the road. All of his percentages also increase across the board.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Boston only has four players born outside the U.S. Coincidentally, they make up 80% of the Centers on the roster. Daniel Theis (Germany), Enes Kanter (Switzerland), Vincent Poirier (France), and Tacko Fall (Senegal). Also, Boston’s Centers are the only ones on the roster with repeated numbers on their jerseys: Kanter (11), Robert Williams (44), Poirier (77), and Fall (99). Theis (27) missed the memo!
The running theme of this article is that Toronto’s short-handed and I have little confidence that they’ll win any game this week. That’s not a slight on the current healthy Raptors, but more as an acknowledgement that the schedule has gotten tougher at a very inopportune time. Gordon Hayward’s likely return, and possibly even Marcus Smart, makes this home-and-home with the Celtics more difficult than originally thought. As much as I’d like to predict a home win on Christmas day, the Raptors are missing half the roster and about to play their rivals from Boston. We already know about Toronto’s struggles facing playoff-bound opponents. Toronto’s recent 5-game win streak has masked some of Toronto’s struggles, especially when facing teams with records over .500. The defense continues to be stellar and, as seen on Sunday, a catalyst for a sputtering offense. Toronto loses both games, 105-99 at home, and 112-98 on the road.
December 29 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
These are the kind of games where you really wish Marc Gasol wasn’t injured!
Nerlens Noel is among the league leaders in alley-oops. You know Big Spain wouldn’t let any of that happen on his watch!
For OKC, the other half of those alley-oops has either been Chris Paul or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
CP3 has erased the Rockets seasons from his memory and quietly worked his way back to Clippers-CP3 level. His shooting percentages are all above career averages, while his turnovers are at a career-low 1.8/game. While many gave up on him and his Thunder after the Westbrook trade, Paul used that as motivation to will this team to a surprising playoff run.
SGA continues showing the bright future that lies ahead for Canadian basketball. On Friday, he became the third-youngest Canadian to top 30 points in a game, and by scoring 32 again on Sunday, joined Rick Fox, Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray, and Steve Nash as Canadians with back-to-back 30 point games.
Oh, I almost forgot: Happy Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tribute video night!
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
The Thunder are filled with players who have amazing nicknames (according to Basketball Reference), including Danilo Gallinari (The Rooster), Chris Paul (The Skate Instructor.....yes, I also didn’t know that, but it’s pretty awesome), Nerlens Noel (The Nerlen Wall), Dennis Schroder (The Menace), and Justin Patton (Big Muddy)
When you’re this short-handed, every game is going to be a struggle, regardless of the opponent. I was going to chalk this up as another loss, but didn’t feel right predicting a win-less Raptors week. All of the areas that OKC can exploit — Toronto’s defensive rebounding, 3-point attempts allowed, poor 2-pt FG% — are not strengths of the Thunder. They rank last in offensive rebounding, 27th in threes attempted, and 15th in opponents 2-pt FG%. The Lowry-FVV backcourt matchup with CP3-SGA is going to be must-watch TV. Unless, of course, you don’t know who one of them is.
I’ll throw you all a bone and predict the Raptors beat the Thunder, 110-109.