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The Rap-Up: Making New Year’s Resolutions in Toronto

New Year. New Me. Are you ready to make some New Year’s Resolutions that you’re absolutely going to keep? This week’s Raptors opponents sure need to make a couple.

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NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again when many people make their New Year’s resolutions. Whether or not you actually do — make and/or follow through — the beginning of the calendar year is a very convenient time to start. According to Vitagene.com, the top 3 resolutions across the U.S. last year were:

  1. Exercise to get in shape
  2. Diet to lose weight
  3. Save money

No surprises with the list. Everybody wants some form of personal development, whether it’s physically or financially.

The NBA is no different. With one-third of the season already completed, teams have a good understanding of what strengths provide success and what weaknesses need resolving. The first two resolutions listed above don’t apply to any individual player in the league. They’re the 450-ish best basketball players in the world. Exercise and diet are as much a part of their lifestyle as fending off groupies at every road game. However, on the team level, some rosters could use a bit of weight-watching.

An argument could be made that none of the top 3 resolutions would be what the Raptors organization would wish. The team’s resolution could simply be to get healthy....and stay that way! Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was finally ready to show why Masai Ujiri signed him, when Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down with injuries. Shortly after their returns, Marc Gasol, Norm Powell, and Pascal Siakam all suffer injuries of their own. The team has managed to pull out some amazing wins, while short-handed, against the Sixers (holding Joel Embiid scoreless), Mavericks (30-point comeback), Lakers (on the road, shutting down Lebron James), and Celtics (on the road, shutting down Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown).

The rest of the East may need to make resolutions about roster development because the reigning, defending NBA champions will be healthy again (they will, right?). No amount of exercise can fully prepare you for full-strength Raptors!

December 31 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Within that Resolutions post, Ohio’s most common response was, “diet to lose weight.” I’d argue that “save money” is much more important. More specifically, save approximately $120+ million in guaranteed money to Kevin Love. Trade him to Portland already. Or any other playoff contender, for that matter. He wasted his first six seasons playing losing basketball in Minnesota. After tasting success and hoisting the Larry OB with LeBron & co., it must be deflating to see the Cavs heading down the same path Love happily escaped in 2014.

On second thought, maybe the loss of weight is an apt resolution for Cleveland. As the Cavaliers’ starting front court, Love and Tristan Thompson are the two heaviest/biggest players on the roster. Shedding those players could ultimately be the “dieting” these post-Lebron Cavs have always needed.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

The Cavaliers are destined for a high draft pick in 2020. Despite John Beilein’s best efforts in his first season coaching at the NBA level, his squad is typically out-matched whenever they step on the court. However, if there’s one area Cleveland excels, it’s not fouling. They’re #1 in fouls called, and also #1 in opponent’s free throw attempts/makes. That’s not the greatest news for a Raptors team that have been out-shot 59-29 at the line, and called for 25 more fouls than their opponent, over the last two games!

Prediction

Toronto avenged one of their worst defeats last season — a surprising 25-point loss to a lottery-bound Cavaliers team — by blowing out Cleveland by 20 on December 16 at Scotiabank Arena. While the team still won’t have the services of Siakam, Gasol, or Powell this time, Toronto remains undefeated against teams under .500. In a year where the Raptors finally won the title, it’s only fitting they end 2019 with another victory, defeating the Cavaliers 114 - 98.

January 2 @ Miami Heat

Over the weekend, the Raptors strolled into TD Garden and handed the Celtics their second home loss of the season. Toronto is hoping to do the same in Miami, where the Heat have only lost once at American Airlines Arena.

MIP candidate, Bam Adebayo, did a masterful job shutting down Siakam (5-of-14 shooting, plus tons of apprehension/hesitation) in the teams’ first meeting. Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are in for a long night.

Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet and Lowry, who was making his return from injury, combined to shoot 7-of-34 from the field and 3-of-20(!) from three. That, too, is definitely not happening again this time. Lowry’s been en fuego lately and is hitting peak KLOE mode as his team recovers from injury. He’s also starting to get the type of analytical recognition that the “eye test” folks have known for a long time: Kyle is good!

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

The Heat have one of the best clutch shooters in the NBA. The hype surrounding his arrival during the off-season appears to be justified. It’s a little surprising, though, that he’s managed to exceed those expectations.

Prediction

Unsurprisingly, the most popular New Year’s resolution in Florida is “diet to lose weight.” There’s a reason it’s called the Sunshine State. With the sun and weather that beautiful, it’s no wonder Floridians want to look their best for the beach. The same can be said of the Heat. They’ve been losing some of the weight on Jimmy Butler’s shoulders. He’s averaging his smallest amount of field goal attempts since his pre-All-Star days in Chicago, while also averaging a career high in assists per game. All of this is to say that Raptor killer, Butler, may not do as much “killing” this time around. While he was awesome during the last meeting, scoring eight points in the first minute of OT, it masks that he was 4-of-11 from the field, and only had 14 points after four quarters.

I’d like to note that I originally chalked this up as a Raptors loss. However, I trust Nick Nurse will find a way to continue keeping Butler in check, while also lowering Miami’s opportunities from three (15-of-38 in earlier matchup). Toronto grinds out a win, 95-93.

January 4 @ Brooklyn Nets

Last week, the Nets lost to the Knicks (that’s bad)... at home (that’s really bad)... while scoring a season-low 82 points (that’s really really bad)... and setting a post-shot-clock era record of only eight 2-point field goals made (that’s historically bad).

New York state’s #1 resolution was eating healthier. Win over Boston, Denver, and Philadelphia should have been the healthy eating that all Nets fans could get behind. Unfortunately, recent losses to the Knicks, Spurs, and Hornets make Brooklyn’s diet looking more like a heavy does of gummy bears.

Kyrie Irving is still out, has no timetable, and has avoided reporters since November 14. Caris Levert is practicing, but not ready to return from injury yet. With those two missing, and the increased workload starting to wear down Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn’s offense has looked especially flat as of late.

Now’s a good time to remind folks that the Raptors have won 16 of the last 17 meetings between these two.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Seriously, sixteen of seventeen. If the beginning of this stretch was a hypothetical playoff season, the Raptors would have swept the first three series, lose the opener of the Finals (of course they would!), then (gentlemen’s) sweep their way to a title.

Prediction

So, the team that just had a historically bad shooting night with 2-pointers, is matched up with a Toronto team that ranks 3rd in opponent’s 2-point FG%. The team with the 28th-ranked 3-point shooting, now has to score against the 4th ranked team, in terms of opponent’s 3-point FG%. Brooklyn ranks in the bottom 10 in turnovers. This bodes very well for a Raptors team that will transform those turnovers into fastbreak opportunities. The Raptors are #1 in fastbreak points. Toronto defeats the Nets, 110-105.

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Last Week’s Record: 2-2

Season Record for Predictions: 22-11