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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for February 21-24

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DeReturn of DeMar DeRozan should be a DeLight for all De Fans. (No more puns — we promise.)

Five thoughts recap: San Antonio Spurs 125, Toronto Raptors 107, DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

“But considering the Raptors’ long history of abject misery — year after year of losing basketball, terrible injuries, brutal trades, bone-headed draft pick selections, and everything else — maybe the karmic balance will work in Toronto’s favour after all.”

If those words look familiar, it’s because they’re ripped from this very site from our Editor, Daniel Reynolds, immediately after the Spurs won Round 1 of the DeMar-Kawhi saga. It was a valid assessment in early January and, with a little more hindsight now, appears to have been quite prophetic.

Years of losing basketball (4 out of the first 18 seasons with over-.500 win %) has transformed into a 6th consecutive season of winning basketball. Terrible injuries to various Raptors (only 1 game this season with a fully healthy roster), is finally turning its own karmic corner. Yes, Fred VanVleet’s thumb injury will keep him out a month, but he’ll be ready for the playoffs. His absence will allow Jeremy Lin a lot more playing time to get acclimated with the bench and, possibly, his new PnR partner, Serge Ibaka. Brutal trades are a thing of the past. Now we’re turning our top reserve (Jonas Valanciunas) into a former DPOY (Marc Gasol). Let’s be real, C.J. Miles fell out of the rotation, and Lin is a more ideal fit with the bench unit than Delon Wright. Bone-headed draft pick selections? With JV now gone, Toronto is now fielding a Finals-contending roster with ZERO lottery picks. Over the last four drafts, Masai has picked Delon Wright at #20 (included in the trade for Gasol), Jakob Poeltl at #9 (included in trade for Kawhi), Pascal Siakam at #27 (insert huge eyes emoji), and OG Anunoby at #20 — plus, Fred VanVleet was an undrafted signee.

With some (hypothetical) karma on Toronto’s side, the timing couldn’t be better as the Raptors have a number of revenge games in the immediate future.

Of the 16 Raptors losses to date, 10 of them are to teams Toronto won’t play any more this season (Indiana, Milwaukee) or teams Toronto has yet to play since losing to them. Two of those revenge games make up this (short) week’s slate of games. We all know what happened when Toronto visited San Antonio on January 3. We all have probably forgotten (likely by choice) what happened when Toronto visited Orlando six days prior (more on this below).

In case you’re wondering, the Raptors split the other six games when playing a team they’d previously lost to this season. “Revenge wins” over Brooklyn (January 11), Milwaukee (January 5), and Philadelphia (February 5). Back-to-back losses to Milwaukee (December 9), Boston (January 16), and Denver (December 16).

Including the Spurs and Magic, Toronto’s next 6 games are of the Revenge type - having lost to each of the six opponents in their previous meeting. At least the Raptors will have a different look this time around with Big Spain and Linsanity in tow.

February 22 vs. San Antonio Spurs

Basketball-reference.com is a treasure trove of basketball goodness. Among the many features I’ll often visit, “On This Day” is a personal favourite. On a day when DeMar DeRozan returns to Scotiabank Arena, the following has taken place on this date:

  • Carmelo Anthony was traded from Denver to the Knicks (2011)
  • Dikembe Mutombo was traded from Atlanta to the 76ers (2001)
  • Tim Hardaway was traded from Golden State to the Heat (1996)
  • Bill Russell grabbed 36 rebounds (1962)
  • Wilt Chamberlain scored 61 points (1962)
  • Julius Erving was born (1950)

That’s an insane list of Hall-of-Famers having something of significance occurring on February 22. While I’m not predicting a 30+ rebound night for Serge Ibaka, or a 60+ point night for either DeRozan or Leonard (I bet neither cracks 30), take another look at those trades. Notice how the other names involved in those deals were not significant enough to be mentioned? DeRozan and Leonard, both the faces of their former franchises, will forever be linked in Raptors and Spurs lore. Their individual performances in this game probably won’t make the “On This Day” list, but it sure as hell will be remembered for a long time.

DeMar took round one. Round two promises to be different with his best friend playing this time.

Prediction

On May 3, last year, the Raptors were destroyed by the Cavaliers in Game 2 of their second round playoff series. Who knew it would be the last time DeRozan would play in Toronto (in a Raptor uniform)? Over 9 months later and the birth of a rivalry is already taking shape. DeRozan will be cheered, commemorated, and chanted. But shortly after he waves and smiles to the crowd, he would want nothing more than to stomp on Toronto hearts and leave with a season sweep of his former team.

Kyle Lowry will have other plans. He missed the first meeting, but his presence will be felt throughout this matchup. While Popovich and the Spurs key in on doubling Kawhi, I expect to see KLOE make a return against his old buddy. The Spurs have lost 4 of 5 during their annual rodeo trip, with only a 1-point win over the lowly Grizzlies to show for it. Toronto stampedes San Antonio, 123 - 108.

February 24 vs. Orlando Magic

Wait, there’s another game this week? Coming off the emotional roller-coaster of the Spurs game, the Raptors will need to re-focus quickly to a Magic team that lambasted Toronto in late December (season-worst 29-point loss in Orlando on December 28). Trap game potential is raised even further when you consider the Celtics are rolling into town on Tuesday.

Prediction

In addition to the Raptors being short on focus, the Magic were one of the hottest teams entering the All-Star break. Orlando 7 of their last 8, including 5 straight before the break. In that span, they were 3-0 against East playoff teams, including a 20-point drubbing in Milwaukee (okay, Antetokounmpo didn’t play, but that’s still impressive). Since we’re on the theme of revenge, look out for Orlando’s sixth man, Terrence Ross, to have himself a game. The former Raptor is averaging a career-high in points (14.6) and is among the league leaders in 3-pointers made. The Magic pull a victory out of their hat, 120 - 115.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 40 - 19 (2 - 0)