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The Rap-Up: Toronto continues fighting on and off the court

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After surviving nine games in 13 days, the Raptors get a much-needed light week. Can they continue their climb into the play-in tournament before next week’s dreaded Western Conference road trip?

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Adam Silver and this NBA season is an absolute joke!

Complaining about a “rigged” system or joining the “everybody is against us” crowd has never been a movement I could get behind. Every fan base will feel like they’ve been cheated one way or another. Personally, I’ve never been one to care that Toronto doesn’t get more Christmas Day games or that they’re typically given the Saturday 12:30pm game on opening weekend of the Playoffs.

But this week, my feelings have changed.

According to spotrac.com, there have been 98 games lost this season due to rest. Toronto has three different players on the list: Kyle Lowry (3), Pascal Siakam (2), and OG Anunoby (4). Brooklyn (4), Detroit (6), San Antonio (4), and the Clippers (5) have each had more players sit because of rest — none of them received fines. Blake Griffin (14) was benched for the same reason, amassing more missed games due to rest than any other team in the league, yet Detroit was never fined. Andre Drummond is surprisingly only listed once for “rest”, but he was also benched by his team while they sought a trade partner. Where’s the fine for Cleveland?

The dollar amount is irrelevant and the enforcement is accurate if we’re following the letter of the law. But where’s the consistency? If the reason for enforcement is to deter teams from tanking — because it certainly isn’t due to a diminished on-court product for a sold-out “home” crowd — then where’s the punishment for Oklahoma City benching Al Horford for the remainder of the season?

It’s been sung from the highest hilltops but it continues ringing true: being the only displaced team in the league and the hardest hit by COVID (while only having one game postponed) is a LOT to ask of any team, both physically and mentally. Apparently, it’s not enough that OG Anunoby (calf), Fred VanVleet (hip), Kyle Lowry (toe), and Pascal Siakam (shoulder) are all starters who’ve been battling injuries recently.

VanVleet went so far as saying that this season is “probably the most unpure year of basketball I’ve ever been a part of.” Truer words have never been spoken.

To respect the team’s current situation — both the winning one on-court and the mental toll off-court — I’m removing the Vulture Index Rating (losing isn’t in their DNA) and bringing back my fun facts. Here’s a fact before we get to the picks: last week was my first perfect week of the season! I’ve correctly predicted the outcome in each of Toronto last six games. Let’s hope that streak continues!

April 21 vs Brooklyn Nets

In his short tenure as Head Coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Steve Nash has already achieved what no other Canadian has by capturing a Coach of the Month award in February. He’s also the 2nd Coach of the Month born outside of the U.S. (Steve Kerr was born in Lebanon), and the third non-American to win the award (David Blatt has dual citizenship in Israel & U.S.; Mike D’antoni, who serves as Nash’s Assistant, has dual citizenship in Italy & U.S.).

Kyrie Irving is averaging 27.5 points on an insanely efficient 51.5 / 39.5 / 91.3 shooting. If he raises his 3-point percentage to 40% by end of season, he’ll join Kevin Durant (2012-13), Steph Curry (2015-16), and Larry Bird (1986-87 and 1987-88) as the only players to hit those marks over a full season. Curry’s the only one in the group to also lead his team to the best record overall and, ultimately, garnered the MVP that season. It’s almost as if his contribution isn’t enough to prove his worth!

Hey look, there’s his teammate, KD! The Slim Reaper is averaging 28.1 points on an equally efficient 53.9 / 45.4 / 88.0 shooting. The only reason we’re not including him in the conversation in the previous paragraph is because he’s only played 22 games this season and likely won’t hit the required minimum number of games to qualify. He probably won’t care because the Nets are still in striking distance of the top seed and health is the number one priority over these last 15 games.

Fun fact that may only interest me

In his 19th game with the Nets, James Harden produced his 6th triple-double with the franchise. 19 games was all it took for Harden to jump to 2nd(!) on the Nets’ all-time list for career triple-doubles.

He’s currently at 12 triple-doubles (over 34 games). Only Jason Kidd is ahead of him with 61. At this rate, he’ll surpass Kidd by the end of next season.

Prediction

Before you chalk this up as a Brooklyn victory, let’s take a look at some facts. The Nets will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after playing in New Orleans. Durant left Sunday’s game with a thigh contusion (and we know of KD’s injury history). Harden has missed 8 of the last 9 games with hamstring tightness (the one game he played, he left after four minutes due to re-aggravating the hamstring injury). If both are out against Toronto, I’d very much like to see Anunoby guard Irving.

Brooklyn had their Big 3 (mostly) in the teams’ only meeting this season — a Raptors victory. Brooklyn may have an other-worldly offense but over the last two weeks when they’ve faced a top-10 defense (Toronto is #12 on the season but #6 over the last two weeks), the Nets have a 1-3 record and a fairly average offense (#13). With two additional days of rest (Yay, they can actually practice!), the Raptors clinch the season series and upset the Nets, 115-112.

April 24 @ New York Knicks

After Sunday’s overtime win over the Pelicans, the Knicks are currently on a season-high 6-game win streak. The last time New York had a win streak that long, Barack Obama was President, their starting point guard was Raymond Felton, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was just released (for context, that’s between Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy in the MCU timeline).

It’s been a while since the Knicks were this good. Tom Thibodeau deserves a ton of credit and should garner some Coach of the Year votes, especially if they season hosting a playoff series.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Knicks allow opponents to shoot threes at a bottom-5 rate, yet rank #1 in opponents 3-point FG%. They also rank #2 in opponents FG% at the rim. If those ranks sound familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what Toronto’s defensive profile was last season!

Prediction

The wins & losses column will say these teams have split the season series, but the Raptors could have won the matchup last Sunday. Fred VanVleet missed the game. Freddie Gillespie and Khem Birch were playing their second and first games, respectively, for the team. New York was limited to 25.7% shooting from three, which was actually an improvement from the 8.3% they shot in the first matchup. If the Raptors have any plans of making the play-in tournament, they desperately need this game before entering their toughest stretch of the season next week. Toronto holds off the Knicks and win, 104-102.

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Last Week: 4-0

Season Record for Predictions: 29-29