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The Rap-Up: Games of the Week for February 4-10

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Toronto embarks on a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” - John F. Kennedy -

Easily the best quote I’ve ever read in the three minutes spent researching quotes about change. Last week, Anthony Davis was a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and sitting out while nursing an injured finger. This week, Anthony Davis is a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and sitting out while nursing a bruised ego. Next week, Anthony Davis might be a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and sitting out while bubble-wrapped until July 1.

Change comes quickly in today’s NBA. If you paid attention to Kennedy’s quote, it’s easy to see how we could get caught up in the minutiae of yesterday and today, but missing out on tomorrow. Take the Toronto Raptors as an example. The haters and/or misinformed will consistently point to past Raptors playoff failures as indicative of an early playoff exit this season. They’re also the type to hate on Toronto’s 3-point shooting woes and see it as a top priority need for this season’s trade deadline. But what does the future hold?

Jonas Valanciunas could return this week. The ripple effect of his return should be enough to justify little-to-no trade movement by Masai Ujiri. JV solves many Raptors woes such as rebounding, screening, rolling (and attracting help defenders), defense, and overall bench play. His roll gravity would surely open up more space beyond the arc and, at least hypothetically, lead to better shot situations. JV’s return would also allow Serge Ibaka to reduce his playing time and stay fresh for the playoffs. With JV & Ibaka owning the frontcourt minutes, Greg Monroe’s role goes back to team mentor / great locker room presence.

What does the future hold for the Pelicans? We can safely say the past 6.5 years have not been utilized optimally for the Pelicans and Davis (two playoff appearances and one series victory). At present, New Orleans has only received “low-ball” offers from the Lakers. Their future looks grim. In addition to the Lakers’ pu-pu platter of young guys with unrealized potential + past-their-prime veterans, the Celtics and their treasure chest of young guys with partially realized potential + a plethora of draft picks may no longer be the best trade partner. Kyrie Irving’s recent change of mind on re-signing, season-long struggles from Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward, and the likelihood of all four first-round picks — Clippers (lottery protected), Grizzlies (top-8 protected), Kings (top-1 protected but currently in a playoff position), and their own pick (likely in the 20’s) — landing outside the top-10, no longer makes Boston a lock as AD’s final destination.

If only there was a team that could offer a player with Skills better than L.A.’s prospects, another big who can cook up double-doubles on a nightly basis, and young players that give you the Wright recipe to break from the Norm and overcome the loss of a superstar.

I certainly wouldn’t want to miss the future! Speaking of which, let’s start predicting some of it.

February 5 @ Philadelphia 76ers

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Toronto finds themselves in a similar situation as last Thursday, except the Raptors are playing the role of the Bucks, holding a 2-1 season series edge with a chance to clinch the tiebreaker on the road.

Toronto kicks off a three-game road trip with their final regular season meeting in Philadelphia. The Sixers spanked the Raptors on December 22 at Wells Fargo Center. Toronto was still adjusting to playing without JV (5th game after his injury), getting out-rebounded 53-41. The Raptors were also without Kawhi Leonard (back-to-back), while also welcoming back Kyle Lowry, who sat out the previous 4 games with a back injury, then immediately sat out the subsequent 5 games with the same injury. It’s safe to say the Raptors were ill-prepared to do battle with their Atlantic Division rival.

If you remember the other matchups at Scotiabank Arena this season, Kawhi bullied Ben Simmons into 18(!) turnovers over the two meetings.

Prediction

Lowry always shows up for games against his hometown (except the last meeting because he was clearly still injured). Against Philly, Lowry has his second-highest point total, his highest net rating, and his second-highest TS%, compared to any other team. KLOE makes a triumphant return as the Raptors deep-six the Sixers, 115 - 109.

February 7 @ Atlanta Hawks

Other than the (possible) end of the Anthony Davis trade saga, the trade deadline at 3pm EST, the All-Star draft at 7pm EST, and Lakers vs. Celtics at 8pm EST, this should be a fairly tame day in the NBA. Also, for what feels like the 5th consecutive season, this might be the last time the Raptors face Vince Carter.

The Hawks may be headed to the lottery again, but they are still very entertaining to watch. They play at the fastest pace in the league, a lightning-quick 104.3, which would be the highest total since the ‘89-’90 Nuggets (105.4). Trae Young has been on a tear as of late (see tweet below). John Collins is averaging 19.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. The seven players averaging 20-10 are the who’s who of today’s NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, and Russell Westbrook.

In addition, Atlanta has a slew of players that teams are watching on the trade and/or buyout market, such as Kent Bazemore, Jeremy Lin, Taurean Prince, Dewayne Dedmon, and Carter. If you ask me, I would target Dedmon, who averages 10.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and 1.2 threes (on 38% 3pt shooting).

Prediction

Toronto has won the last six meetings between the teams, to bring the overall series to 43-45. That’s quite remarkable when you consider Toronto lost the first 12 meetings between the franchises. While the last time these teams met on January 8, Toronto needed a late comeback to dispose of the pesky Hawks, the Raptors seldom play down to the competition more than once. Toronto flies by Atlanta, 120 - 108.

February 9 @ New York Knicks

If you blinked on Thursday, you would’ve missed the New York Knicks clearing their books for a big offseason, by unloading injured unicorn Kristaps Porzingis. While you could make a case that their future is brighter than their present (how could it not be), despite the loss of Porzingis, it’s tough to imagine any max-contract free agent wanting to sign with New York. Hypothetically, the Knicks could sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the offseason, but are they really leaving Championship contenders to play with Damyean Dotson and Noah Vonleh?

Prediction

Toronto has won 11 of the last 12 meetings between the teams, with the one loss coming to the hands of ex-Knick, Hardaway Jr. (38 points), and ex-Knick, Porzingis (22 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks). New York will be flying in from Detroit, on the back-end of a back-to-back. The Knicks have lost their last 14(!!) games at MSG. They’ve won one game in 2019. I could go on, but you get the picture. Toronto buries the Knicks in the Garden, 125 - 105.

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Season Record for Predictions (Last Week): 35 - 19 (1 - 1)