Welcome to year 5 of The Rap-Up!
If you’re new here, I preview the upcoming games for the Raptors (Monday to Sunday). The aim is to get your Mondays started off right and your mind prepared for the week ahead in Raptors basketball. At the very least, I don’t want you running into a situation where you’re caught off-guard by an upcoming opponent (“Wait, the Raptors have to play in Brooklyn and Miami on back-to-back nights?”).
This weekly post also offers me a chance to show off my prognostication skills. Granted, it’s hard to predict outcomes (let alone anticipate injuries) for games as far as 7 days out, but I have been able to keep pace with the Raptors over the years.
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
Predictions record: 49-33
Actual Raptors record: 48-34
This year, I’ve got media credentials! What exactly does that mean? Absolutely nothing! You’ll still get this post every Monday, with each game’s preview including some random fact or stat.
Please forgive this somewhat lukewarm introduction. Just like the players, I’m trying to wash off some off-season rust! On to this week’s games!
October 19 vs Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers were the surprise team for most of last season. Darius Garland had a breakout season that led to his first All-Star selection. Evan Mobley lived up to the draft hype, giving Scottie Barnes a run for his money in the Rookie of the Year race (jeez, it’s almost as if the league wants this Mobley-Barnes rivalry to become a thing). Jarrett Allen fortified the paint alongside Mobley, bringing back memories of the Twin Towers days in San Antonio.
Apparently, the Cavaliers weren’t done surprising folks, even after the season was cut short due to injuries.
While New York was fumbling their chances at acquiring Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland was quietly crafting an offer Utah couldn’t refuse. Sure, the Cavaliers gave up a lot of what worked last season (Lauri Markkanen as their 7-foot wing), the season before last (Collin Sexton was the team’s leading scorer), and many seasons into the future (Ochai Agbaji + 3 first round picks + 2 first round swaps).
There’s no question that Cleveland’s backcourt duo AND frontcourt duo all have All-Star-worthy talent. The question they need to answer is: who’s their starting small forward? Caris LeVert is probably best suited as a Sixth Man/Microwave Bench Scorer. Is Isaac Okoro ready to step into a larger role? Does J.B. Bickerstaff go back to the Cedi Osman well? What about Dean Wade or Dylan Windler? Do any of those names really excite Cavs fans?
As my parents said when I walked into their house with poutine from KFC, “where are the wings?”
Fun fact that may only interest me
24.3 points, 4.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 47.5 FG%, 81.5 FT%, 37.5 3pt FG%
25.9 points, 5.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 44.8 FG%, 85.3 FT%, 35.5 3pt FG%
Both numbers look solid and certainly warrant All-Star or All-NBA consideration. Player A is Collin Sexton from two seasons ago (he missed most of last season due to a torn left meniscus). Player B is Donovan Mitchell from last season.
I’m not saying the Cavaliers should not have pulled the trigger on the Mitchell deal. But I’m also not NOT saying the Cavaliers should not have pulled the trigger on the Mitchell deal!
I remember being genuinely surprised when the Raptors lost to the Cavaliers in their first matchup last season, 102-101 at Scotiabank Arena. It was one of those games where Cleveland answered every punch and made a statement that they weren’t just a flash in the pan. The second matchup was filled with less surprise as it was the “COVID game” where Toronto was missing 9 players and needed 33 minutes or more from Yuta Watanabe (sigh), Svi Mykhailiuk, DJ Wilson, and Tremont Waters.
There won’t be any surprises this time around, nor will there be any health concerns (knocks on wood), as both teams kick off their 2022-23 campaigns.
As great as Garland and Mitchell are offensively, they, along with whoever plays the 3, will be relying heavily on Mobley and Allen to make up for their defensive limitations. Cleveland ranked 1st in opponents’ FG% at the rim, but that may not be too much of a factor because Toronto didn’t like venturing that close (26th in percentage of shots at the rim). The mid-range is what Cleveland gives you and the mid-range is where Toronto thrives (6th in short mid-range, long mid-range, and all mid-range frequency).
Cleveland ranked 27th in turnovers last season and added a high-volume ball handler in Mitchell who averaged 3 turnovers a game. Opening night at Scotiabank Arena + turnover-prone team = a lot of chances to run for the #2 transition offense (in frequency) last season.
Before falling to the Wizards last season, the Raptors had won their previous 7 straight home openers in Toronto (nobody counts the Tampa season). This promises to be a tough battle between two teams that hope to move into the “Contenders” group this year. Toronto’s offense may get stagnant at times, but the Cavaliers’ lack of wing depth and obvious areas to target on defense (i.e. Garland, Mitchell, anyone on their bench shorter than 6’9) evens out the playing field. With all things even, you have to give the edge to the home team. Toronto gets the season started on the right foot by squeaking past the Cavaliers, 105-104.
October 21 @ Brooklyn Nets
The Nets ended last season with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving carrying the team while Ben Simmons and Joe Harris sat on the sidelines.
The Nets start this season with Durant, Irving, and Simmons while Harris and Seth Curry sit on the sidelines.
It doesn’t sound like much has changed, except that you’re adding one of the best defenders in the NBA into the lineup. Shouldn’t that do more for your lineup than add 1 more projected win to your total from last season?
Oh, that’s right, I failed to mention ALL of the stuff that happened during the off-season!
Irving demanded a trade. Durant demanded a trade. Irving was close to going to L.A. and reuniting with LeBron James. Durant gave the Nets an ultimatum — Sean Marks and Steve Nash or me. Irving opted into his player option. Durant rescinded his trade request. There isn’t anything shaky about this situation at all, right? Right???
It’s a good thing Simmons is back.
Fun fact that may only interest me
Yuta Watanabe’s birthday was on October 13th.
That’s it. That’s the fun fact. I miss him.
The point guards are a matchup of hands as Irving’s dribbling mastery takes on Fred VanVleet’s deflection-prone paws. Whether it’s O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa, Otto Porter Jr., or Scottie Barnes (I could actually list more), Durant is going to see ALL of Vision 6’9 in this matchup.
Brooklyn ranked last in defensive rebounding last season. Toronto (#2 in offensive rebounding) will crash the glass relentlessly. This is an area where Simmons’ value starts to show. In his last full season, he ranked in the 91st percentile in defensive rebounding percentage on opponents’ field goal attempts. Combine the rebounding with his height and court vision, Simmons is the perfect addition to a Brooklyn team that ranked 3rd in points per possession on transition opportunities started from live ball rebounds.
Simmons may still be rusty after missing a full season of competitive basketball, but thankfully for him and Brooklyn, he’s flanked by two of the best players in the world to take his passes and turn them into assists. The Nets beat the Raptors, 113-104.
October 22 @ Miami Heat
There probably wasn’t a more nerve-wracking season series than Miami-Toronto last year. Each of the four games was decided by 5 points or less. The triple-overtime game on January 29th, which was won by Toronto, 124-120, may have been the game of the season.
In addition to the games themselves, the matchups and storylines are simply delicious. Erik Spoelstra and Nick Nurse are two of the most respected coaches in the game. Jimmy Butler is a Raptor Killer for life. Each team has a former Exhibit 10 contract-turned-rotation-player in Caleb Martin and Chris Boucher. Pascal Siakam and Bam Adebayo are 6’9 defensive monsters who each only have one all-star appearance (both in 2020). Fred VanVleet has done an admirable job taking over the title of team leader once Kyle Lowry left.
Fun fact that may only interest me
Both teams enter this matchup playing the second game of a back-to-back. Last season, Toronto had the most wins in the NBA when playing on zero days' rest (11). Meanwhile, only three teams in the East had fewer than Miami’s 5 wins on zero days' rest — Brooklyn, Orlando, and Charlotte.
This is the first of a double-header between the teams in Miami. Two areas where Toronto should thrive are transition offense and causing turnovers. The Heat ranked 30th in transition opportunities given up off live ball rebounds and 28th in turnovers. That’s a recipe for success for a Raptors squad that thrives in transition and ranked 2nd in steals.
Miami was the best 3-point shooting team in the league last season. As long as Nick Nurse’s defense continues switching all screens and collapsing in the paint, the Heat will continue seeing wide-open threes with the right passes.
With how good these coaches are at making game-to-game adjustments, I’m inclined to predict they’ll split the two games....I just don’t know who will win first. Let’s give this one to Toronto, who will be coming off a relatively easier opponent than Miami, who would’ve played Boston the night before. Raptors overcome the Heat, 109-106.