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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for Feb. 25-Mar. 3

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Toronto looks to avenge earlier losses to Boston, Portland, and Detroit this week as the head into the final quarter of the season.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bad news: Toronto’s 7-game win streak came to an abrupt end at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

Good news: My 8-game prediction streak is in tact, a I correctly foretold that letdown (Spurs) / looking-forward-trap-game (Celtics).

Speaking of last week’s Rap-Up, I hinted that Toronto’s on a revenge tour against foes they had previously lost to. After avenging a previous loss, the Raptors got one back against the Spurs (Hi DeMar). This week, Toronto has 3 more games where they can avenge earlier losses.

During the 7-game win streak (February 3rd), Toronto ranked 4th in Defensive Rating. Here’s what the Raptors have done to key players in each of those victories:

  • Feb. 22 - Lamarcus Aldridge held to 6 points
  • Feb. 13 - Bradley Beal had as many turnovers as field goals made (6)
  • Feb. 11 - Caris Levert held to 6 points
  • Feb. 9 - Dennis Smith shot 4 / 17
  • Feb. 7 - Trae Young with his lowest +/- (-23) in almost 2 months (28 game span)
  • Feb. 5 - Ben Simmons with 6 turnovers #KawhiEffect; Jimmy Butler with 18 points, which is his lowest total as a Sixer when playing at least 38 minutes; loss likely prompted Sixers to make a deadline move for Tobias Harris
  • Feb. 3 - Tobias Harris shot 5 / 18; loss likely prompted Clippers to make a deadline move to unload Harris

If you want to include the Orlando game, Toronto held Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier to a combined 6 / 22 shooting and 18 points. The Raptors will need solid defensive showings this week if they hope to avenge earlier losses.

Without further ado, on to this week’s picks. Make sure to leave yours in the comments below.

February 26 vs. Boston Celtics

Instead of giving you my analysis on how the Celtics are doing, I’m going to defer to various twitter folks to tell the story.

Prediction

All jokes aside, the Celtics visit Toronto on a mission. A victory would clinch the season series (3-1), erase the setback from the embarrassing loss in Chicago (and tight loss in Milwaukee), and re-energize a Boston squad that’s still trying to find its identity. Similarly, a Toronto win would clinch the season series (2-2 with a 7.5 game lead and 20 games remaining), erase the setback from the embarrassing loss to Orlando, and re-energize a Raptors squad that’s still trying to find its optimal rotation.

Both teams enter the matchup missing a key reserve — Aron Baynes and Fred VanVleet — but otherwise healthy. Toronto is 8-2 in games where Kawhi Leonard returns from load management. In both losses, Leonard nearly led the Raptors to improbable road comebacks in Houston and Portland. This one’s at home, where Toronto has won seven straight when Boston visits, and on a Tuesday, when Toronto has yet to lose this season (8-0). Boston sees us rise (hehe) with a 112-108 Raptor victory.

March 1 vs. Portland Trailblazers

By the time Portland rolls into town, they will have played 4 games of their season-long 7-game road trip. Having not played a home game since February 13th (before the All-Star break) starts to wear on a team. Toronto has an opportunity to take advantage of the road-weary squad.

The Raptors rank #1 in transition efficiency and #3 in transition frequency. Whether it’s Lowry’s eagerness to inbound immediately after a whistle, or Siakam’s quickness to turn any defensive rebound into a foot race to the other end, Toronto can get some easy buckets against one of the NBA’s slower teams (17th in pace). Getting out on the break can lead to easier-than-usual forays to the bucket against a Blazers squad still licking their wounds after playing the Celtics.

Prediction

As pointed out earlier, Toronto’s recent win streak was partly due to shutting down one of the opponent’s top scorers. When these teams faced off in mid-December, CJ McCollum was held to 5/14 shooting (14 points), Damian Lillard was held to a season-low 10 field goal attempts, and Jusuf Nurkic was held to 4/15 shooting (his second-worst shooting performance of the season). While Portland still came away with the victory, Toronto was also playing without Lowry. The Raptors light up the Blazers, 124-108.

March 3 @ Detroit Pistons

Since February 3rd, the Pistons are #3 in Net Rating (Raptors are #5), and #1 in Offensive Rating(!). For a team that isn’t known for their offense (22nd in Offensive Rating for the season), this recent surge has elevated Detroit into a playoff position.

Detroit has developed its “Big 3” (Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson) and reaping the benefits. Since January 25th, Drummond has gone from shooting 56.6% on attempts within 5 feet of the basket, to shooting a league-leading 77.3%. In that same span, Jackson has shot almost 50% from the field AND from 3. Where Lowry and JV thrived in the pick-n-roll for the last few seasons, Dwane Casey has created a similar threat with the Jackson-Drummond pairing.

Prediction

There are a couple of yellow flags for Raptor fans to watch, in addition to losing to this team already this season. Detroit has hit at least 12 three-pointers in each of their last eight games, and 11 of their last 12. As we just witnessed in the Orlando game, a hot shooting team from beyond the arc can destroy the Raptors — especially one that’s just added a specialist, Wayne Ellington.

The Pistons playing so well offensively, of late, is a reminder of what kinds of teams have defeated Toronto — every team (except Golden State, ironically) in the top-10 (season-long) in Offensive Rating has defeated the Raptors. That list includes Houston, Denver (twice), Milwaukee (thrice!), Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Boston (twice). The NBA’s #1 offense over the last month does it again, as Detroit revs past Toronto, 110-108.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 42 - 19 (2 - 0)