clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Rap-Up: It’s finally time to leave Tampa

New, comments

The shortest, yet longest, Raptors season reaches its merciful end this week. For the final Rap-Up of the season, it’s time for the Raptors to wrap up their stay in Florida.

Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Good riddance, Tampa!

This season has been one of the most difficult to watch because the expectations — and accompanying stats — painted the picture of a playoff contender. With the team unofficially, but practically, eliminated from the post-season, it’s better late than never to admit that the numbers have been wrong!

Toronto entered the season with double-digit win streaks against the Bulls, Sixers (at home), Timberwolves (at home), and Lakers. The Raptors lost all of those streaks this year.

The Raptors brought back four good-to-great-to-elite defenders in Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby, with the departed Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka looking like shells of their former championship selves. Yet, Toronto plummeted from 2nd to 13th in defensive rating.

I’ve spent the last 3+ years predicting games on this site with a focus on stats to fuel the decision process. For the first time, I’m going to abandon the stats and release my inner fan. How trustworthy are any Toronto stats when Nick Nurse is trotting out his G-League equivalent lineup?

The excitement that comes with the end of a regular season is normally due to an expectation of a long playoff run with the hopes of lifting the Larry OB as the ultimate goal. This season, fans and players alike, are excited to get the heck out of Tampa!

Amalie Arena has never felt like “home” for the Raptors. You will never hear booing when a Raptor is at the free throw line. You will never hear MVP chants for an opponent. You will never feel like how the Pistons feel when the Raptors come to town. Hosting a playoff game would’ve been worse than the time Toronto fans were decked out in the opposing team’s jersey colours, or when they wore the Angry Beaver shirts.

Thankfully, their time in Tampa is coming to an end.

Before we start envisioning a (near-)future when the Raptors first step on the Scotiabank Arena floor next season to the roar of Raptors fans (even if it’s only a fraction of arena capacity), let’s get to the final four games of the season and make some picks!

May 11 vs Los Angeles Clippers

Toronto has two days of rest while the Clippers will only have one. This extra day will allow the Raptors to come up with a lineup that a) reaches the league minimum of eight players; and b) manages to afford rest for most, if not all, of its future core!

It’s a shame we likely won’t see OG Anunoby defend Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. It will, however, be quite delightful to watch Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris — yes, Toronto’s 3rd and 4th best point guards — outplay Rajon Rondo, Pat Beverley, and Reggie Jackson, forcing Lawrence Frank to start stalking each of them throughout the off-season.

While all the MVP talk has been justifiably in Nikola Jokic’s corner, Kawhi is quietly having the best season of his career. He’s averaging career-highs in FG%, TS%, and assists on a ridiculous 51/40/88 shooting split, all while playing more minutes per game (34.2) than any other season in his career. With last season’s embarrassing early-round exit, and this season’s playoff field missing a clear-cut favourite, I can’t help but wonder the same thing whenever he’s in town: would the Raptors be playing for a three-peat this year if he re-signed with Toronto?

Fun fact about Tampa that every Raptor fan will enjoy

Prediction

The Clippers are still jostling for the third spot in the West, holding a one-game lead over the Nuggets. Getting a win over a tanking team shouldn’t be an issue, even if they almost lost to the same Raptors squad last week. This time around, there probably won’t be VanVleet or Siakam, so the Clippers should have their way, defeating the Raptors 115-102.

May 13 @ Chicago Bulls

You have to hand it to the Bulls. As recently as Thursday, they had a worse record than the Raptors, had lost four in a row, and Zach LaVine had missed 12 straight games after contracting COVID. With only a handful of games left and a large deficit to overcome in the play-in standings, it would’ve surprised no one if they went full tank and gave Toronto a run for their (lottery) money.

However, they’ve now won three straight and closed the gap to 2.5 games behind the floundering Pacers for the final play-in spot. More importantly, they’ve widened the gap to two games for the 7th-best lottery odds! Toronto cannot climb into the group of tankers occupying the six worst records but can finish in the 7th to 9th range. Toronto is two games “ahead” of Chicago and three ahead of Sacramento.

While it’s nice (for Raptors fans) to watch the Bulls and Kings make valiant efforts to make the play-in, Toronto essentially clinches the 7th-best lottery odds with a loss to Chicago.

What really grinds my gears is that if these teams finish with the same records at the end of the season, the NBA will hold a draw to break the tie — regardless of the head-to-head records. So, the Bulls can possibly sweep the season series and STILL win a tie-breaker for better lottery odds. How is that fair?!? Season series’ are used to break ties for the playoffs, why not the lottery??

Fun fact about Tampa that every Raptor fan will enjoy

Prediction

Chicago has won both matchups this season and is riding high on the wings of LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. With most starters likely sitting, Flynn may get the tough assignment of guarding the two-time dunk champ. I’m extremely interested in watching Freddie Gillespie shut down Vucevic... simply for the vibes! This is a must-win for Chicago as their other three games are against the Nets (x2) and Bucks. This is a must-lose for Toronto because it represents a two-game swing in the lottery standings. The Bulls complete the season series sweep, defeating the Raptors 113-112.

May 14 @ Dallas Mavericks

As is customary when the situation arises this season, the Toronto Raptors are 3-12 in the second game of a back-to-back.

Luka Doncic hasn’t shot the ball well the last couple of times against Toronto. Nurse’s trapping scheme is effective in making him get rid of the ball and, to a lesser extent, make him uncomfortable. Doncic will probably feel relieved to not see Anunoby or Siakam guarding him, although I wouldn’t be too surprised if Stanley Johnson puts up a good fight.

I actually pegged Doncic as my pre-season pick for MVP. He won’t win the award this year but he’s on his way to getting one soon. If he finishes the season at his current averages, he’ll complete the 10th season in NBA history where a player averages at least 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. He’ll also join Oscar Robertson (who achieved 5 of those 10 seasons) as the only player to achieve the feat twice (Michael Jordan, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook each achieved it once).

Fun fact about Tampa that every Raptor fan will enjoy

Prediction

As was the case against the Clippers, the Mavericks are in a tight battle for position in the West. Although, Dallas’ situation has a bit more urgency in that they’re trying to avoid the play-in tournament. With games this week against the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves, it certainly looks like Dallas won’t have to worry about dropping to 7th. Doncic gets a triple-double, Dorian Finney-Smith drains at least five triples, and 50% of Raptors Twitter will be shocked when they see J.J. Redick in a Mavericks uniform. Dallas upends Toronto, 116-103.

May 16 vs Indiana Pacers

In an extremely odd turn of events, the Raptors could simultaneously end their season on a high note, eliminate the Pacers from the play-in, get Nate Bjorkgren fired (and possibly bring him back to Toronto’s bench), and cause an Indiana overhaul that could land Myles Turner in Toronto!

Alright, that sounds silly, I get it. But does anything with Indiana make sense these days? Bjorkgren, by all accounts, was a great presence in the Toronto locker room. How he’s all-of-a-sudden become a locker room cancer that nobody respects is beyond me. Did T.J. Warren really request a trade after hearing of Bjorkgren’s hiring?

Whatever the case, the Pacers picked the worst time of the season to be going through... the worst things that can happen to a team. In addition to the off-court issues, they’ve been without Malcolm Brogdon since April, T.J. Warren’s season lasted four games, Myles Turner is out indefinitely, and Assistant Coach, Greg Foster, recently got into an altercation with Goga Bitadze.

Their difficult end-of-season schedule will only compound their issues. In this final week, they have two back-to-backs, including games against the Sixers (SEGABABA), Bucks, and Lakers (over four days). They close out their regular season with another back-to-back, with a date against the Lakers the night before flying to Tampa. Ouch!

Fun fact about Tampa that every Raptor fan will enjoy

Prediction

Is it possible the Raptors are actually not the most dysfunctional team in this matchup? While it’s very likely that none of Toronto’s core players suit up again this season, I certainly hope Lowry at least plays a few games. His impending free agency will surely bring back all the Lowry-to-Sixers rumours (especially if Philadelphia does not win the East). I simply can’t let go of him knowing his final game as a Raptor (vs Lakers) did not include him taking a charge! Take one against an erratic Caris Levert then call it a (Raptors) career! Toronto, having already clinched the 7th-best lottery odds, pull off a 114-107 season-ending victory over Indiana!

THANK YOU for reading along all season! It may not have gone how we all had hoped, but the draft lottery is only six weeks away and the boys should hopefully return home next season. YOU can help bring them home by getting vaccinated and following all health and safety protocols!

********

Last Week: 3-0

Season Record for Predictions: 34-34