And then there were two.
No, I’m not referring to the number of teams you have remaining in your bracket. This is the second-to-last edition of The Rap-Up. To dampen the mood further, this week’s slate of games is, well... underwhelming. The Raptors almost have as many wins solely against East foes (30), as the Bulls and Knicks have victories combined (35). Instead of boring ourselves with what should be one of the easiest weeks of the season, let’s quickly turn our attention to the engine that drives this sports car — it’s Kyle Lowry’s birthday today (assuming you’re reading this on Monday)!!
Happy Birthday Kyle! Let’s celebrate #7 with seven facts about the birthday boy that you may not know:
- He is one of only two players in NBA history to not make an All-Star team in his first eight seasons, and follows that up with at least five All-Star selections. The other was Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups.
- When Lowry was traded from Memphis to Houston, two other former Raptors were involved in the three-team deal. Rafer Alston moved from Houston to Orlando, while the first round pick that Memphis received from the Magic, eventually became DeMarre Carroll.
- Lowry started his own line of fruit drinks called FamJuice.
- He graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia. Other notable alumni include Cuttino Mobley and... that’s it.
- At Cardinal Dougherty, Lowry averaged 18.7 points, 9 boards, and 7 dimes. Whoops, those stats were actually from his then-girlfriend-now-wife, Ayahna Cornish-Lowry. (In case you’re wondering, Kyle averaged 19/8/6)
- Kawhi is obviously following in Kyle’s footsteps of signing with a lesser known shoe company. Lowry had a signature shoe with PEAK.
- Kyle has earned more this season ($31.2 million) than his first eight seasons combined ($28.8 million)
For the second-to-last time this season on to this week’s picks.
The Efficiency Landscape. Last 15 Games. What Jumps Out? pic.twitter.com/Uhevm79ZmR— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) March 24, 2019
March 26 vs. Chicago Bulls
Since we’re on the topic of birthdays, Happy Birthday Ryan Arcidiacono. If you don’t think he’s scoring 20 off the bench and nailing five of six triples, then you haven’t been following the Raptors for long. With Wendell Carter and Denzel Valentine out for the season, and Zach LaVine and Otto Porter nursing injuries that kept them out of Saturday’s 31-point home loss to the Jazz, we might see Chicago give minutes to their Player Development Coach, and former Raptor, Shawn Respert! The only thing I’m interested in seeing is what the Raptor has in store for Robin Lopez.
The Bulls suck. Shaquille Harrison. Antonio Blakeney. Brandon Sampson. Not only are those actual names of current Bulls players, but two of them are starters! Since the All-Star break, Chicago has put up a respectable 7-9 record. However, they’ve also had the East’s second-worst point differential (look no further than the next opponent to find out the worst). Chicago is in the bottom five in opponents FG% and opponents three-pointers made since the break — areas where Toronto rank 1st and 4th, respectively, over the same period. Toronto runs over the Bulls, 129 - 108.
March 28 @ New York Knicks
The Knicks have the worst record in the NBA, but since it isn’t “clinched” yet, they still have some losing to do. Last week’s game against New York revealed just how large the talent gap is between these teams. Whether or not Lowry plays to get revenge on Mitchell Robinson, Toronto should use Robinson’s presence as a motivating factor in destroying the Knicks. It probably doesn’t also hurt that this will already be Marc Gasol’s third chance as a Raptor to show up his former coach, David Fizdale.
Lowry on the Mitchell Robinson play: "I think it was a little bit dirty. He grabbed me, pulled me down. He's a young kid so I don't know if he did it on purpose or not, but I think he'll learn his lesson next time and be a little bit more careful."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 19, 2019
Over the last month — literally, since New York lost to the lowly Cavaliers at home on February 28 — the Knicks were a last-second Mario Hezonja block of LeBron James away from losing every single game. New York fans are probably comforted in knowing that each passing day brings them closer to a possible Kyrie Irving + Kevin Durant union. Toronto should be able to give a good show to the Madison Square Garden crowd before pulling away for a victory, 119 - 107.
March 30 @ Chicago Bulls
There really isn’t much more to write about a Bulls team that’s been destined for the lottery all season long. Instead, let’s have some fun with Basketball Reference’s historical standings page. On this date:
March 30, 1996: Chicago, 61-8, on their way to the franchise’s 4th championship; Toronto, 18-52, on their way to completing their inaugural season
March 30, 2007: Chicago, 43-30, with the league’s no. 1 defense and no. 1 attendance; Toronto, 39-32, on their way to the franchise’s first division crown, but bounced in the first round at the hands of super villain, Vince Carter, and the New Jersey Nets
March 30, 2011: Chicago, 51-22, with MVP Derrick Rose, Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, and Executive of the Year, Gar Forman, in tow; Toronto, 20-53, on their way to the franchise’s third-worst win total and the final season before the Dwane Casey regime took over
March 30, 2018: Chicago, 24-51, started a plethora of players at least 10 times, including Paul Zipser, Cameron Payne, and Cristiano Felicio; Toronto, 55-20, on their way to the franchise’s first one-seed in the East.
Everything I wrote a couple paragraphs above for the March 26th match-up applies here too, except maybe this time Benny the Bull tries mocking Illinois native, Fred VanVleet. If the Raptors don’t sweep this week, I’ll be disappointed, but not because they lost. I’ve been playing catch-up all season with my predictions and finally passed Toronto (after correctly predicting the Hornets loss). Don’t let me down, Raptors. Toronto slays the Bulls, 106-95.