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Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: O.G.’s the Raps MVP

Losing streak be damned — let’s get into the holiday spirit by paying homage to the Raptors’ own red-nosed reindeer!

You know Pascal and Precious and Gary and Freddie,

Alex McKechnie and don’t forget Nicky.

But do you recall,

The most famous Raptor of all.

O.G.’s the Raps MVP

Leads with Steals at 2.4

And if you ever saw it

You would think he’d steal much more

All of the other Raptors

Used to laugh and call him names

They never let poor O.G.

Shoot in any Raptor games

Then one sunny July eve

Nick Nurse came to say

“O.G., with your D so tight

Won’t you fill our foes with fright?”

Then how the Raptors loved him

As they shouted out with glee

“O.G.’s the Raps MVP

Please come back from injury”

December 19 @ Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia has been without Tyrese Maxey for over a month, winning 8 of 13 during that stretch. Over the last two weeks, the Sixers have found their groove offensively, winning their last 4 straight and fielding the 2nd-best offense in the league.

Joel Embiid is averaging 38.8 points over the last five games. James Harden has averaged 11.8 assists over the same span and has closed the gap on Tyrese Haliburton for the league lead (Harden 10.6; Haliburton 10.7). In his 12th NBA season, Tobias Harris is shooting a career-best 56.5% eFG%, including 40.4% from beyond the arc on 5.4 attempts.

Hmm, maybe Harden’s on to something.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Let’s show some love to the G League! There are only 3 players that average at least 22 points, 1 steal, and 1 block: Orlando Robinson (Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Miami Heat affiliate), Justin Champagnie (of course), and Julian Champagnie (Delaware Bluecoats, the Philadelphia 76ers affiliate).

Prediction

The Raptors will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after losing to the Warriors. The Sixers, on the other hand, will have enjoyed a two-day rest advantage. Philadelphia is also in the middle of a season-high 7-game homestand, averaging 126.3 points over the first four games — all victories.

With Anunoby likely out and still no Precious Achiuwa in sight — you know, the two players tasked with slowing down Embiid and Harden during the playoffs last season — there’s not much to like about this matchup for Raptors fans. Philadelphia ranks second in free throw rate, while Toronto ranks 26th in sending foes to the line. With the Sixers’ offense clicking lately and the Raptors defense... ummm... not, this figures to be a long night for Toronto. The Sixers take down the Raptors, 125-113.

December 21 @ New York Knicks

The Knicks are winners of seven straight and the number ONE defense over the last two weeks. That is not a typo. In their win over Cleveland, they held the Cavs to a season-low 81 points. In their win over Sacramento, they held the Kings to 99 points — the first time this season they’ve failed to hit triple digits.

The win streak started when Tom Thibodeau made a seemingly small but ultimately gigantic change to the rotation. New York’s oldest players, Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier, along with Cam Reddish were all benched (and haven’t gotten off it since they started winning). Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride were inserted into the rotation (with Grimes starting) because Thibodeau apparently has a thing for guys who play defense. Who knew?

With New York currently in a position to make the playoffs for the second time in 10 seasons, the Knicks will show up in approximately 95% of every trade rumour from now until the deadline.

Fun fact that may only interest me

In the 1968-69 season, Bob Rule (24.0) and Lenny Wilkens (22.4) became the first pair of left-handed shooting teammates to average 20 points or more in the same season. That feat would not be replicated until last season when RJ Barrett scored 20.0 and Julius Randle averaged 20.4.

As a fellow lefty, these facts bring me nothing but joy. The Knicks can outdo themselves and make NBA history as the only team to have THREE lefties average at least 20 points. Randle (22.5) and Jalen Brunson (20.8) are already there. They just need Barrett (19.4) to catch up.

Prediction

In their previous game, the Raptors kicked off a back-to-back by playing a home game against the Warriors. This time, it’s the Knicks doing the same, with the Raptors benefiting from the extra day of rest. Toronto has won 12 of the last 15 meetings, but the three losses have come within their last four visits to Madison Square Garden.

If there’s a glimmer of hope for the Raptors against New York (words I never thought I’d be typing at all this season), it would be their ability to generate turnovers and capitalize. Toronto is #1 in transition points per possession off steals, while New York ranks 30th in transition frequency allowed off steals.

While the Raptors have won the turnover battle in their last six games, the number of turnovers generated has decreased. Conversely, the Knicks have done a decent job of protecting the rock during their win streak. Is there any reprieve in sight? New York defeats the visiting Raptors, 109-104.

December 23 @ Cleveland Cavaliers

In a season full of injuries and bad luck, the Raptors find themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing with house money. Toronto had the fortune of playing Cleveland at Scotiabank Arena — once with Darius Garland going down with an eye injury and another with Jarrett Allen out — and winning both games.

Donovan Mitchell has been everything Cleveland hoped for. He’s averaging 29.5 points on 50.3/42.4/88.9 shooting — all career-highs. Mitchell is looking to join Steph Curry as the only player in NBA history to average 30 points per game while joining the 50/40/90 club.

As if having that kind of offensive firepower wasn’t enough, Cleveland’s defense has also improved. The 6th-ranked defense last year is 1.3 points per possession stingier this year and up to #2 defensively.

In terms of roster balance, no team is as good as Cleveland. The Cavs are the only team in the NBA with a +5 net rating from BOTH units.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Almost exactly a year ago, these teams met in Cleveland for what can only be described as a scrimmage disguised as an NBA game. The teams had 17(!) players out due to injury, but mostly Covid. The Cavaliers were at least able to field a couple of rotation players and turned this into a blowout, running away with an easy 144-99 victory.

With the roster wafer-thin, Nick Nurse had to rely on a plethora of new faces. Here’s a list of all the career highs that were achieved:

  • Yuta Watanabe: minutes (37:10), points (26), rebounds (13), field goals (11), field goal attempts (20)
  • Tremont Waters: minutes (34:55). Played 1 game and 3:36 since.
  • Juwan Morgan: minutes (27:21). Played 2 games and 7:39 since.

Since this game, Waters and Morgan have combined to play 3 games and 11:15 in total court time.

Prediction

In their final game before Christmas, the Raptors visit Cleveland, where the Cavaliers boast a league-best home record of 14-2. Anunoby should be back to resume his defensive excellence (likely guarding Mitchell again). Toronto will be desperate to get in the win column (assuming they haven’t yet) before returning home for the Christmas break. It’s also entirely possible for the Cavaliers — after facing the Bucks two nights prior and looking forward to a date with the Nets on Boxing Day — to overlook the reeling Raptors and lack the necessary intensity.

All of that is possible but one thing is certain: the Raptors are 0-7 on Fridays and visiting Cleveland having possibly only won 3 of their 16 road games. Until proven otherwise, Toronto losing on Fridays is one of the safest bets in the league. The Cavaliers defeat the Raptors, 115-107.

********

Last Week: 2-1

Season Record for Predictions: 19-11

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