When I started this weekly column after the All-Star break in 2018, Black Panther had yet to be released, BTS was unknown to mainstream North America, and Kawhi Leonard was recovering from a right quad injury as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
Suffice to say, a lot has happened since then!
A historic championship, global pandemic, and a few social justice movements later, the goal of this column has never changed: Prepare you, the reader, for the week’s coming Toronto Raptors games! Along the way, that preparation naturally led to making some predictions. Here’s how I’ve fared since joining Raptors HQ:
2018 (post-All-Star break)
Predictions record: 15-5
Actual Raptors record: 14-6
Predictions record: 57-25
Actual Raptors record: 58-24
Predictions record: 50-22
Actual Raptors record: 53-19
Predictions record: 37-35
Actual Raptors record: 27-45
Is my record from last season inflated because the Raptors decided to tank? Maybe. Do you actually care? Probably not.
Well, dear reader, I do care. You’re the reason I wait until the final Sunday night game is completed before checking stats for this Monday-morning-deadline column. You’re the reason my wife’s post-dinner coffee is decaffeinated and mine isn’t. You’re the reason I sweat the 81st game of the season wondering if Mike Budenholzer will rest Giannis Antetokounmpo against Toronto because his Bucks have clinched first. Why? Because everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks they’re right. One way of breaking through the clutter is to back up those opinions with facts and stats.
Yes, the Raptors are probably not hoisting the Larry OB in June 2022. But Masai Ujiri and his front office, along with Nick Nurse and his coaching staff, have a goal in mind to use length and strength to disrupt conventional methods of winning basketball games.
My goal is to use The Rap-Up to educate the masses using strength in numbers to disrupt Raptor Haters from getting the last word. I’m looking forward to season #5 of this weekly column and am glad to have you follow along. Without further ado, here’s a look at this week’s Raptors games.
October 20 vs Washington Wizards
600 days later, the sound of Herbie Kuhn introducing the Toronto Raptors in front of 19,800 screaming fans will fill the air like the sound of trumpeting angels and send goosebumps throughout the nation!
When these teams last faced, the Wizards were starting Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, Raul Neto, Anthony Gill, and Raptors legend, Alex Len. Five months and one blockbuster trade later, Wes Unseld Jr. will make his head coaching debut with a starting unit that will include some combination of Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Montrezl Harrell, and Daniel Gafford.
It’s quite unfortunate that Pascal Siakam isn’t around to terrorize Kuzma, but if the pre-season was any indicator, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby should pick up the slack in shutting down Beal.
Keep an eye on Dinwiddie. Before suffering a torn ACL injury last season, there were high hopes that his 20+ points and 6+ assists averages (1 of only 13 players) from 2019-2020 could carry over to the pre-James-Harden Nets. His recovery and contribution will go a long way in determining the success of this Wizards squad.
Fun fact that may only interest me
The last time the Raptors played in Scotiabank Arena, 9 players got into the game. Only 1 Raptor can say they played in both games: OG Anunoby.
The last time the Wizards played a road game (pre-pandemic), 10 players got into the game. Only 4 of those players could see playing time in this game: Beal, Davis Bertans, Hachimura (if he’s recovered from health & safety protocols), and........Isaac Bonga.
It was understandably a pre-season game, but the same Wizards squad that almost defeated the Knicks (zero Knicks fans should be proud of this video), lost to a Raptors team without Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. With a new coach and almost an entirely new roster, it’s too early to say whether or not Washington will continue playing at a high pace (#1 last season) or score as often (#3 last season). This Raptors team has overhauled to run with any team and defend with length and versatility. Heck, they can win this game on good vibes alone. The Raptors make a triumphant return to Toronto and manhandle the Wizards, 120-109.
October 22 @ Boston Celtics
After failing to meet higher expectations last season, the time for change finally arrived in Boston. Brad Stevens replaced Danny Ainge as President of Basketball Operations. He replaced himself with Ime Udoka, who has always appeared on coaching interview lists but never landed the coveted role.
The Celtics were one of the very few teams that could run with the Raptors’ small-ball lineup (out-run, if we’re being honest). Unfortunately, as Toronto experienced too, big men were needed and big men were where Stevens targeted in the off-season. He brought back Al Horford and Enes Kanter.
Horford will miss this contest after testing positive for COVID-19. Jaylen Brown also tested positive but should be done with his quarantine in time for the game. Whether or not he’ll be in game shape is another question altogether. Payton Pritchard, a recent addition to the Raptor Killer group, is hoping to play, despite a broken nose that’ll force him to wear a mask.
Fun fact that may only interest me
Between January 2017 and October 2019, there was a stretch of 12 consecutive matches between these two teams where the home team won. That streak ended in December 2019 when the teams traded road wins (long live Patrick McCaw). After that, Boston won the last four games during the pandemic — essentially road games for the Raptors.
In other words, Toronto has lost 10 of the last 11 games against Boston that were not played in Scotiabank Arena.
Re-read the last paragraph of each of the last two sections and that seemingly sums up every Raptors-Celtics game: Boston appears to be undermanned but finds a way to win, partly because they don’t have to worry about rabid Toronto fans. I know it sounds hypocritical to celebrate one pre-season accomplishment (shutting down Beal) while ignoring a similar one (shutting down Jayson Tatum), but until the Raptors solve the Celtics in Boston (without McCaw), I cannot pick them to win. Boston prevails over Toronto 121-113.
October 23 vs Dallas Mavericks
What is this? The first week of the season and already a SEGABABA (SEcond GAme of a BAck-to-BAck)? The good news is that the legs are still relatively fresh for a Raptors squad rostering 7 players 22 years of age or younger.
The bad news is Dallas has the recipe of a team that gives Toronto problems. They do not turn the ball over (#3 in turnover percentage last season) and have a high-usage ball handler that can get to the line — Luka Doncic ranked in the 92nd percentile in Shooting Fouled % and in the 97th percentile in Floor Fouled %; Toronto ranked dead last in opponents Free Throw rate last season.
The good news is they have replaced one of the greatest coaches in history, Rick Carlisle, with one of the worst, Jason Kidd.
The bad news is that this matchup occurs so early in the season that showcasing Goran Dragic as trade bait may be futile while he’s still learning the system.
The good news is that I can now remind you of the last time Dallas came to Scotiabank Arena.
Fun fact that may only interest me
Out of the 11 NBA players to come from the tiny country of Slovenia, 5 have come from its capital city, Ljubljana, including Luka Doncic, Goran, and Zoran Dragic.
Slovenia’s largest city has a population of approximately 280,000, which is one additional full-capacity Scotiabank Arena short of the population of Vaughan.
Toronto’s won the last 6 home matchups against Dallas. Nick Nurse’s game plan to shut down, or at least limit Luka has been quite effective. In the last meeting, Doncic only shot 36.8% from the field, including one of only three instances where he shot so poorly from three (1-of-8). In the matchup before that, Doncic was held to one of his lowest scoring totals (15 points; 0-for-3 from three). Toronto was the only team to hold Doncic at 20 points or less in all of their matchups last season. As head coach of Brooklyn for one season and Milwaukee for four seasons, Kidd faced the Raptors 18 times. His team lost 13 of those games. Toronto impresses with a 110-105 victory over the Mavericks.