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The Rap-Up: Toronto reunites with the Green Ranger and L.A.

Five months, three scrimmages, and one pandemic later, the Raptors finally return to meaningful basketball games. With the Lakers up first, the Raptors have a chance to make an early statement.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Raptors play their final non-Summer-League game in July ever... we hope.

With only one more scrimmage game remaining, you could argue that this is the last we’ll see of some of the end-of-bench players like Dewan Hernandez, Paul Watson, and Oshae Brissett. However, with Toronto in a somewhat comfortable cushion (three games ahead of Boston for second place), and Nick Nurse continuously preaching (praying?) for a healthy roster come playoff time, would it surprise anyone if we see Malcolm Miller start re-seeding game no.8 to match up with Bol Bol?

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July 28 @ Phoenix Suns

Similar to Sunday’s matchup with the Blazers, this is another rare instance where the Raptors see a Western Conference for the third time in the same season. Unlike Portland, the Suns could not take advantage of an injury-depleted Raptors squad. Toronto won at home 118-101 without Norm Powell or Marc Gasol. Two weeks later, the Raptors visited Phoenix and came out victorious 123-114, this time missing Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Gasol.

What does any of this mean as these teams prepare to do battle in the bubble? Absolutely nothing! It’s a scrimmage.

But since we’re here, the Suns have put together a fairly decent 2019-20 campaign. Don’t forget they started the season winning seven of their first 11 games and sat two games back of the conference-leading Lakers in mid-November.

Devin Booker spent a good portion of the season flirting with the 50-40-90 club. He may have fallen short (48.7-36-91.6) but he did land his first All-Star selection. Booker, along with Ricky Rubio, made up the league’s 2nd-best average for assists per game for a duo (15.5), trailing only LeBron James and Rajon Rondo (15.6). Underrated Most Improved Player candidate, Mikal Bridges, was the only player to rank in the top 20 in both True Shooting percentage and steals per game. Deandre Ayton was suspended after the first game of the season for 25 games, after violating the league’s drug policy. He returned with a vengeance, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds over 30 games — averages only matched by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Last season, Pascal Siakam became the first Raptor in franchise history to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in Toronto (the previous six instances all occurred on the road), when his left-handed lay-up floated just above the outstretched arm of Ayton. He continued haunting Suns fans’ dreams over the two meetings this season.

In the first meeting, Siakam almost scored as many points (37) as Phoenix’s star duo, Ayton and Booker (38 points), while nailing more triples (5-of-9) than noted sharpshooter, Booker (1-of-5).

As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, he went and replicated that performance a few weeks later. Siakam almost outscored the duo (33 vs. 35), and again out-shot Booker from beyond the arc (5-of-9 again vs. Booker’s 2-of-8 shooting).

Prediction

Small sample sizes and all, a trend has emerged in Toronto’s first two scrimmages — starters play to a standstill in the first half, Toronto’s deep bench swings the game. Phoenix may have a formidable starting lineup that can put some points on the board, but when they have to turn to Jevon Carter, Ty Jerome, and [gasp] Cameron Payne, it’s lights out for the Suns. Toronto makes it seven in a row (including the four pre-pandemic) against West teams, beating the Suns 122-107.

August 1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

As the Raptors suit up for their first meaningful basketball game in almost five months, pundits and oddsmakers are likely going to have the Lakers as favourites to win. If you’re someone who likes to dabble in betting, I’d suggest you consider the Raptors.

If the Lakers win their opener vs. the Clippers, they’ll essentially have the West 1-seed locked up (6.5 game lead with 7 to play). It may only be the second re-seeding game, but the incentive go all-out diminishes.

When these teams met in November, it was arguably the statement game of the Raptors’ early season. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were lost to injuries. Nurse, to that point, was almost exclusively rolling with a 7-man rotation. The mighty Lakers were at full strength (sans Rondo) and on a 7-game win streak (after an opening night loss to the Clippers).

It simply cannot be understated how huge the Raptors victory was. Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had breakout games, and instantly entered Raptors lore. Chris Boucher had one of the best performances of his career. LeBron was shut down — as much as a team can really “shut down” one of the GOAT — as he had one of his worst shooting games of the season (5-for-15, season-low 13 points).

Yes, LeBron got a triple-double (13 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists) and Anthony Davis performed well (27 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks), but those are generational talents and, frankly, the only Lakers to produce anything substantial. Meanwhile, Siakam had a poor shooting night (9-of-25), OG Anunoby and Marc Gasol had off-nights offensively, and again, Toronto was without Lowry and Ibaka. Imagine if the Raptors had their All-NBA point guard and Ma Fuzzy, who’s having the best season of his career, both in uniform!

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

If we assume all 37 members of the Toronto Raptors packed only essentials, is it also fair to assume that the only championship ring that got into the bubble, is the one that could be presented to Danny Green?

Oh, you want a real stat? Davis’ hardest opponent over his star-studded career has been the Toronto Raptors. He has scored the least points per game (17.8) and the Raptors are the only opponent where he has a negative net rating (107 ORtg, 108 DRtg).

Prediction

The Raptors have won 10 straight against the Lakers. (That was moved from the previous section because, well, that should interest everyone) Siakam may have tough time navigating around AD again, but the added offense of Ibaka and Lowry on the floor should allow his game to open up a bit.

Nurse’s jumbo lineup with Ibaka and Gasol starting may be utilized to combat the LA’s frontcourt of AD and Javale McGee. The trickle-down effect could mean FVV and Norm coming off the bench to wreak havoc on JR Smith, Dion Waiters, Jared Dudley, or any other washed up player the Lakers employ. Toronto makes an early statement in the bubble: you’ll have to pry the Larry OB from our bloody hands... defeating the Lakers 108-99.

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Last Edition’s Record: 2-0 (But I won’t count scrimmages to the season total)

Season Record for Predictions: 46-18