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The Rap-Up: Santa Klaw is coming to town

The Raptors have three games this week, but you can excuse most fans if their attention is on one, in particular. Welcome back, Kawhi Leonard!

Toronto Raptors Victory Parade & Rally Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Nope. Not gonna do it. I will not let a 3-game losing streak bring me down. Not with Christmas around the corner. Not with Kawhi Leonard returning to Toronto. Let me quickly divert your attention to this random tweet I stumbled upon before getting into a festive mood.

Alright, now let’s get into the holiday mood with a remix of a Christmas classic: Santa Klaw is coming to town!

You better cheer loud / You better not boo / You better be proud / Or I’ll come for you

Santa Klaw is coming to town

He’s getting his ring / He’s gotten it twice / Gonna find out who’s OG and Spice

Santa Klaw is coming to town

He sees the Clips are losing / He knows they’re not as deep / He knows in two years he’ll be free / So be good while Masai creeps / Ooohhhh... You better cheer loud / You better not boo / You better be proud / Or I’ll come for you

Santa Klaw is coming to town!

December 9 @ Chicago Bulls

The Raptors visit Chicago on the back-end of a road back-to-back, following a tough front-end matchup with a potential playoff foe.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what happened at the beginning of the season! Toronto was coming off its first loss of the young season in Boston and took all their frustration out on the Bulls in the Windy City. Has anything changed over that last six weeks to think this game finishes any differently?

This time around, Chicago will not have Otto Porter (left foot injury). Chicago will not be coming off an impressive road victory (4th quarter comeback in Memphis was impressive at the time). Instead, the Bulls will be licking their wounds from a second loss in nine days to the lowly Golden State Warriors. On the other side, Toronto will not be utilizing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in garbage time only. Norman Powell will (probably) not be held to seven points again. Stormin’ Norman has scored in double-figures in 9 of his last 10 games, including two of the four best scoring nights of his career — 26 in Dallas, and a career-high 33 in Orlando.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Chicago is #1 in the NBA in steals, averaging a whopping 9.6/game. With Toronto having difficulty protecting the rock of late (22 turnovers in Orlando on Nov. 29; 22 turnovers vs. Houston on Dec. 5), you’d figure that would be an area the Bulls could capitalize. However, the Bulls are a paltry 1-4 when forcing 20 or more turnovers, with one of those losses to the Raptors.

Prediction

One of the worst shooting teams in the league (Bulls are 29th in FG% and 2-pt FG%) are about to face one of its best defenses (Raptors are 1st in defensive FG% and 2nd in 2-pt FG%). Nick Nurse has been solid at preparing his troops, amassing a 5-2 record in the second game of a road back-to-back, since taking over head coach duties. This one shouldn’t play out any different from the late-October meeting at the United Center. Raptors tame the Bulls, 114 - 98.

December 11 vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Kawhi Leonard makes his one and only visit to Toronto. It’s the game every Raptors fan has been waiting for (with varying reasons). Apparently, the NBA is looking forward to this as well by ensuring the Clippers were not on a back-to-back!

Emotions will surely run high. Many fans will cheer the man that led the franchise to an NBA title. Others will simply be wrong!

While everyone reminisces about Game 7 vs. Philadelphia, Game 3 vs. Milwaukee, or any of the Finals games, I can’t help but think about that weird 3-week stretch after claiming the title. Kawhi’s decision to stay or go loomed over the championship parade and, frankly, all short/long-term decisions for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster. With all that uncertainty, only one thing was certain: the Toronto Raptors were champions.

Anyone who doubted the trade of DeMar DeRozan was silenced. Anyone who doubted ‘Playoff Lowry’ was silenced. Anyone who doubted that Kawhi would even show up to play was silenced. Every year, 30 teams have title aspirations. Every year, 29 teams have their seasons end without one. You need a combination of great-to-elite talent, outstanding coaching, and a bit of luck to take home the Larry OB.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see a Raptors championship parade. All of our dreams came true once Kawhi donned the Raptors jersey.

If you’re still bitter at him leaving, or still beating the ‘what if he stayed’ drum, that’s your prerogative. I choose to celebrate what he brought this country, this city, and this writer. Championships banners fly forever — it took some giant hands to help raise ours.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Last season, DeRozan averaged a career-high 6.2 assists in his first season after leaving Toronto. This season, Leonard is averaging a career-high 5.2 assists in his first season after leaving Toronto. Fred VanVleet is averaging a very healthy 7.3 assists per game this year. In other words, I don’t see him leaving next summer and topping his current assists average.

Prediction

Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka. OG Anunoby (mostly). Paul George. All of these players missed the first meeting at Staples Center. RHJ held a master class in shutting down Kawhi, holding him to a season-worst, 2-11 shooting and a career-worst nine turnovers. His defense will be needed again, as he and Anunoby will likely take turns covering Kawhi and PG.

The Clippers have one notable road win (114-99 win in Dallas on Nov. 26). Otherwise, they’ve lost by double-digits on the road against anyone with a record over .500 — Jazz, Rockets, Spurs, and, very handily to the Bucks last Friday. In each of those last three losses, LA shot under 40% from the field. As you already read in the Bulls preview, Toronto is #1 in opponent’s FG%. Two weeks after dismantling the Lakers, Toronto had another signature win against Philly. Well, it’s been another two weeks and the Raptors are due for another reminder. The defending, reigning, NBA champs upend the Clippers, 110-104.

December 14 vs. Brooklyn Nets

The Raptors own the Nets.

Outside of a fluky overtime loss in Brooklyn last December, the Raptors have won the last 15(!) meetings between the two teams. The other three games last year were Raptor wins, two of which were double-digit blowouts, and a third where Brooklyn hit 20(!!) triples, yet still lost.

Caris LeVert is still recovering from thumb surgery. Kyrie Irving is out with a right shoulder injury. Kevin Durant... well, let’s check in on him.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

All season long we’ve been reminded of Toronto’s ability to shut down opposing stars. Even though Kyrie and KD are out, Nick Nurse may want to employ his defensive wizardry on Spencer Dinwiddie. The Nets score 13.6 more points per 100 possessions when Dinwiddie is on the floor. Brooklyn also plays like a 51-win team with him on the court, and like a 22-win team when he’s off, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Prediction

Toronto entered the week with many questions and concerns. But they’re leaving the week with answers and reassurance. Brooklyn is in the bottom-10 in the league in turnover %, on the offensive and defensive end. Look for the Raptors’ fastbreak to come alive again with multiple transition opportunities. Since returning from that mid-November west coast road trip, the Raptors are #2 in steals and #4 in offensive rebounding. So, not only will they be racing out in transition, Toronto will be ready to crash the glass against a Nets team that ranks 26th in offensive rebounds allowed. Raptors defeat the Nets, 115-103.

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Season Record for Predictions: 15-7