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The Rap-Up: Putting things in perspective

The Raptors wrap up their 6-game road trip before returning to Toronto to face an old rival. Can they right the ship and climb back to .500?

Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s never too early to put things in perspective.

This past weekend, I made a near-fatal mistake of feeding my daughters — both with anaphylactic allergies to nuts — granola bars with cashews. Anyone who has a food allergy knows to check the ingredients of anything and everything they ingest, full stop. Between my wife, who ordered a new granola bar we’ve never tried, myself, who disinfected the box but failed to read the ingredients, and my eldest daughter, who packed the snacks and is accustomed to checking ingredients (but also forgot), it was a(n) (im)perfect storm of calamity that led to my wife frantically administering epinephrine shots (Epipens) on the side of the road.

After the Epipens did their job and a stressful visit to the emergency room further helped the girls survive their allergic reactions, I’m relieved to report that both girls are fine and fully recovered!

It’s a peculiar way to start the post and an odd segue to the Toronto Raptors, but events like these really open your eyes and force you to step back. Just as my daughters are welcoming the smaller things like the air they breathe (without closed throats), Raptors fans should really appreciate what they’re seeing with this year’s team.

At this point last season, the Raptors were without a home (sorry, not sorry, Tampa), constantly hearing/reading Kyle Lowry trade rumours, starting Aron Baynes, and playing without a true #1 scoring option.

The Raptors may only be 2-6 at home (and 2-0 when I’m in attendance, just saying), but at least they’re playing in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena. The only trade rumours about a 35-year-old Point Guard are not of the anxiety-inducing ilk. Khem Birch and, yes, even Precious Achiuwa, are inspiring upgrades at the five. As for the #1 scoring option, OG Anunoby has exhibited signs of taking that mantle, while VanVleet has taken full ownership of the leadership hole his predecessor vacated. Gary Trent Jr. has been outstanding of late, scoring at least 20 points and nailing at least four triples in four of his last five games. Oh right, there’s also Pascal Siakam.

Don’t take anything for granted. One day, you’re wrapping up a five-game road trip. The next, you’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and never return to your home court for 600 days.

The Raptors may not be championship contenders, but they’re young, resilient, and building towards something special.

Oh, and they’re bloody fast too!

On to this week’s picks!

November 24 @ Memphis Grizzlies

The Raptors continue their road trip by visiting their franchise brothers in Memphis. Nick Nurse’s bunch will have the benefit of an extra day rest which, hopefully, affords him the return of Anunoby and/or Yuta Watanabe. That would be especially fitting for Watanabe, who first made a name for himself while with the Grizzlies.

Ja Morant’s steep ascension to superstardom continues to soar. He’s gone from Rookie of the Year to successfully lead his Grizzlies through the play-in tournament. This season, he’s raised his points (19.1 to 25.1), rebounds (4.0 to 5.9), steals (0.9 to 1.6), and shooting (44.9% to 49.7%), all while leading Memphis to impressive wins over the Clippers (twice), Nuggets (twice), and Warriors (one of only two teams to hand Golden State a loss).

Re-read that list of wins and consider the following: Memphis has the worst defense in the NBA. Their 115.5 defensive rating is so poor that the gap between themselves and the 29th-ranked Pelicans is larger than the gap between New Orleans and the next 5 worse defensive teams. Say what you will about Toronto’s defensive struggles of late, but Memphis has given up 115 points or more (9) in over twice as many games as the Raptors (4).

Grit and Grind? More like Split (the D) and Find (the open man).

Outside of Morant, would any other Grizzly crack Toronto’s starting lineup? Their 3rd & 4th leading scorers, Desmond Bane (14.8 points per game) & Jaren Jackson Jr. (14.1), average about the same as Scottie Barnes (14.6). What Trent Jr. is producing is what Bane aspires towards. Barnes is already performing at a higher level than JJJ, but with even greater upside. Steven Adams is the kind of bruising Center the Raptors lack, but Toronto is spending less on Chris Boucher, Khem Birch, and Precious Achiuwa combined (approximately $16 million this season) than what Memphis is paying Adams (team-high $17 million).

That only leaves Dillon Brooks.

Crap. Maybe we’re doomed.

Fun fact that may only interest me

2021-22 Grizzlies:

Points per possessions — 12th; Opponents’ points per possession — 30th; Opponents’ effective field goal percentage — 30th

Starting Point Guard — former Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant

2006-07 Grizzlies:

Points per possessions — 13th; Opponents’ points per possession — 30th; Opponents’ effective field goal percentage — 30th

Starting Point Guard — former Rookie of the Year, Damon Stoudamire

The 06-07 Memphis squad also had a promising rookie further down the depth chart named Kyle Lowry. So, let me be the first to proclaim Ziaire Williams as the next G.R.O.A.T.

Prediction

The Raptors go from facing the league’s best defense in Golden State to the league’s worst. Instead of worrying about Draymond Green and a suffocating defense, they get a poor man’s Green in JJJ and an efense (notice the missing ‘d’). Toronto will feast on the offensive glass against a Memphis squad that’s 25th in defensive rebounding. Those second chances will come in handy because Memphis also sports the league’s worst 3-point shooting defense. Toronto doesn’t need to be lights out from downtown, but a couple of extra kicks at the can wouldn’t hurt. The Raptors pick up their second win on the road trip, defeating the Grizzlies 116-104.

November 26 @ Indiana Pacers

It’s never too early to talk about playoff tie-breakers! With two wins over the Pacers already in the books, the Raptors can clinch the season tie-breaker with Indiana — another East rival that should also hover around the play-in range.

Since their last meeting on October 30th, Indiana cobbled together a pair of impressive victories against the Jazz and Sixers. Their offensive (9th) and defensive ratings (12th) over this stretch show signs they’re headed in the right direction. Caris Levert missed the first meeting, which Toronto won easily 118-100, while Malcolm Brogdon missed the second meeting, where the Raptors came out with a gritty 97-94 victory. Both are healthy and should be in uniform for this (pivotal?) matchup.

Health and team ratings are one thing but dig a little deeper and you can see why Indiana is 7-11. Domantas Sabonis’ numbers are down across the board. Levert’s scored 11 points over the last two games combined. Chris Duarte has struggled since his hot start to the season and has lost his starting job to Justin Holiday. TJ Warren is still at least a month away from returning.

Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches of all-time (he’s in my top-10 list), so the organization surely won’t direct any blame towards him. If both teams continue on their current trajectories, you might as well start playing around Myles Turner-to-Toronto fake trades because it’ll infiltrate your timeline in due time.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Almost 17 years to the day, Detroit was almost home to another Malice at the Palace. Sure, this one didn’t involve the Pacers, but memories of Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, and Stephen Jackson were surely filling your timeline on Sunday evening after Isaiah Stewart turned the Pistons-Lakers game into a tryout for the Detroit Lions.

Since the Pistons now play at Little Caesars Arena, coming up with a name for this near-fight should have been difficult. Luckily, the internet is undefeated and we now have these gems:

  • Malice at the Pizza Palace
  • Big Trouble in Little Caesars

Prediction

Toronto already won the previous two meetings with the Pacers, mainly by winning the turnover battle and generating second chances by crashing the offensive glass. Indiana’s done well lately to clean up those areas. In three of their last four games, the Pacers have committed 10 turnovers or less, as well as limited to opponents to eight offensive rebounds or less. Another player that was absent from the first two meetings was Pascal Siakam. When Spicy P is in the lineup, the Raptors are 8-2 against the Pacers. He’s slowly starting to look like his All-NBA self and, whether or not Anunoby is back, should provide enough of a boost to carry Toronto to a win. The Raptors clinch the season series by defeating the Pacers, 108-104.

November 28 vs Boston Celtics

It’s not even December and the Raptors will have faced these last two opponents for a third time each this season. These rivals split the first two meetings, both in Boston.

As shocking as it seems, the last time the Celtics played at Scotiabank Arena was the Christmas Day massacre! (I’m fine with calling it a massacre because it precluded a massacre of our own a couple of nights later in Boston. Shoutout to Pat McCaw.) Before then, Boston had lost the previous eight(!) visits to Toronto. Does this make me feel any better about this matchup? Hell no! Nothing ever feels right when the Raptors face the Celtics.

Boston won the last matchup, despite Jaylen Brown being out and Jayson Tatum being held to 8-of-24 shooting. They also won in February last season because Payton Pritchard’s body was temporarily inhabited by Ray Allen.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Returning to the earlier theme of putting things in perspective, my cousin recently gave birth to her first child, so I’m breaking my personal code of conduct to spread the love! Apologies for the over-sharing of personal matters, but I’m also using this opportunity to put some undue pressure on the new parents.

They decided quite early in the pregnancy to name their son, Tatum Anthony. He’s absolutely adorable and “Tate” is already capturing everyone’s hearts.

Starting with this game, I will track how the Celtics perform, specifically Tatum (the baller, not the bawler), and make sure to praise/blame my cousin accordingly.

Prediction

The Celtics have won seven of their last 10 games to recover from their slow start. They’ve come nowhere close to giving up as many offensive rebounds (21) or turnovers (25) as they did in the teams’ first meeting this season. With Ime Udoka’s squad fully healthy and Toronto’s defense going through growing pains, it’s not hard to see a Boston victory. If only there was something to distract the Celtics locker room.

Raptors get another signature win over the Celtics, upsetting Boston 110-109.

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record for Predictions: 9-9