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The Rap-Up: It’s time to get comfortable in Tampa

The Raptors found themselves out west and now look to do the same in an improved Amalie Arena atmosphere. Let’s look ahead to the coming week of games.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Home (bitter)sweet home.

On Saturday, the team announced that they will not allow fans inside the arena, putting an end (temporarily) to the facade of a home crowd.

This was a failed experiment from the start that has hopefully come to a close for the remainder of the Raptors’ stay in Tampa.

I recently jumped on the Shooter & the Stache’s Sports Bar podcast to prep some Tampa folks with what to expect from their temporary basketball team. While they were excited to house the Raptors, they were quick to point out the three other major sports were well ahead of basketball in the hierarchy of Tampa sports fandom. With the Heat and Magic already establishing fan bases for all Floridians, what basketball fans are left to cheer for the Raptors?

Through three home games, the crowd was mediocre at best. If they weren’t actively cheering for the opponent, they were seen without masks. The entire Celtics game was an abomination. With most fans wearing Celtics green, the Raptors were booed during the intros. When the game was getting out of hand in the third quarter, chants of “We want Tacko” could be heard on the broadcast.

The Raptors PR department stated the spike in coronavirus numbers as the reason for halting fans from attending games. When the season started, there were 11,384 coronavirus cases in Tampa. On January 8, the day before the announcement was made, and exactly two weeks since Christmas, that number jumped to 19,530. I don’t know about you, but both of those numbers are terrifying. They shouldn’t have had fans from the start, but at least they’ve come to their senses now.

The piped-in crowd noise that was used during the Bubble should work just fine. Videoboards are probably not cost-effective solutions since it will take some time to create and the team may be out of Tampa as early as mid-March. Here’s hoping they opt for cardboard cutouts, similar to their Rogers Centre neighbours. Give me Drake, Nav Bhatia, the Raptors Fan Patrol, and, even cooler, all of Raptors Twitter littered across Amalie Arena in cardboard cutout form!

Whatever the team decides will be better than what the first rheww games displayed. With an upcoming 7-game home-stand starting this week, things may start to feel a little more comfortable in Tampa!

January 11 @ Portland Trailblazers

Outside of a two-game trip to Indiana in two weeks, this is the Raptors’ final road game until February. Toronto has won four of their last five visits to Portland.

During their last visit to Portland, Fred VanVleet put the clamps on Damian Lillard, holding him to 0-for-6 shooting and zero points. Lillard hit his first shot of the game, then didn’t hit his only other bucket until garbage time — with 42+ minutes between buckets. His nine points halted a streak of 230 consecutive games with double-digit scoring.

When the teams met in Toronto two months later, the Raptors were without VanVleet... and Pascal Siakam... and Marc Gasol... and Norm Powell. The Blazers overcame a 12-point 4th quarter deficit, thanks to a 28-point performance from Carmelo Anthony, including the go-ahead bucket with four seconds remaining.

Before crowning the Raptors, let’s not forget the other half of Portland’s outstanding back-court. CJ McCollum has started the season averaging career-highs in points (27.9), assists (5.0), steals (1.7), and, most surprisingly, three-point shooting (from 2.8 made threes on 37.9% shooting last season, to 4.9 made threes on 44.4% shooting!).

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

Thirty-eight percent from beyond the arc. When Trailblazer opponents shoot 38 percent or better, they’ve come away victorious. When they haven’t, Portland has won. Sometimes it can be that simple.

Prediction

The Blazers allow opponents to shoot an eFG% that ranks 26th in the NBA, and allow opponents shots at the rim at a bottom-10 rate, as per CleaningTheGlass.com. With Siakam’s recent aggressiveness and Chris Boucher’s continued ascension, there certainly appears to be a recipe for success. How tired will the team be, having played the night before in a narrow loss in Golden State? Siakam (40), VanVleet (39), and Anunoby (37) all played heavy minutes, while the team will be playing their 4th game in 6 nights. However, the season’s still young. The Raptors have looked a lot better than their record indicates. The desperation and urgency to win was prevalent throughout the 4th quarter against the Warriors, and should bleed into this must-win game in Portland. The Raptors upend the Blazers, 118-107.

January 14 vs Charlotte Hornets

January 16 vs Charlotte Hornets

That’s not a typo. In the first of a number of two-game mini-series’, the Raptors will host the Hornets for a pair of games at Amalie Arena. This is also the beginning of a season-long (for now) 7-game home-stand. With no more fans allowed, let’s see the absence of fairweather fans — and increased piped in noise — will make the Raptors feel a little more at home.

Before the season began, the Hornets were consistently seen as bottom-feeding team that could #FadeForCade. However, LaMelo Ball has been a revelation in Charlotte. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double and the 40th to produce one off the bench. Alongside last season’s revelation, Devonte Graham, the pair’s ability to drop dimes (5.9 for Ball; 6.5 for Graham) and generate steals (1.5 for Ball; 1.4 for Graham) have fueled the NBA’s best passing offense (#1 in assists) and one of the best turnover generators (3rd in steals).

Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me

When Cody Zeller went down with a season-ending hand injury after the season opener, the Hornets were down to zero rotation players taller than 6’8. Seriously. Ball and Bismack Biyombo are the tallest rotation players at 6’8.

The Raptors could roll out an all-tall lineup of Siakam, Yuta Watanabe, Chris Boucher, Aron Baynes, and Alex Len, with everyone taller than their Hornet defenders.

Prediction

The drawback of the Hornets being small is that they have a similar profile as the Raptors of recent seasons. They generate steals, are quick enough to defend the three (5th in 3-point defense, as per Cleaning the Glass), and limit fastbreak opportunities (4th in transition defense). At the risk of sounding like a homer (I read the comments last week), the Raptors are simply too good to have a record this bad. However, I hedge my bets and predict a win and a loss. Raptors fall to the Hornets, 113-112, but also defeat the Hornets, 125-113.

I really wanted to predict a Raptors mini-sweep, but you’ve got to think Charlotte will play like this is the final game of their season. After playing Toronto, they fly home to face Washington.

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record for Predictions: 4-5