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The Rap-Up: Spreading some love to the Raptors

Valentine’s Day is a great reminder to express adoration to those you care about, especially if you haven’t done so recently. With that in mind, let’s swoon over the Raptors before they wrap up the first half of their schedule.

New Orleans Pelicans v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Love is in the air.

Happy Valentine’s Day folks! As someone who’s been married for 13 and a half years, I can safely admit that I haven’t celebrated the occasion for approximately 12 years. Since my self-proclaimed smooth words have little effect on my wife, allow me to spread some words of endearment to the Toronto Raptors!

I love how Fred VanVleet’s bet on himself continues paying off.

I love how Gary Trent Jr. continues proving that Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster always come out as winners of their trades — and that Thaddeus Young is going to further enforce that truth.

I love how Pascal Siakam has not only regained his 2019-2020 All-NBA form, but that he’s surpassed it and is headed for more end-of-season recognition.

I love how NBA referees are finally recognizing that OG Anunoby is simply stronger than most of his defenders and calling fewer offensive fouls on him.

I love how Chris Boucher, after 4.5 seasons, has finally found his ideal role with the Raptors. He’s been a staple of Raptors’ fake trades since his rookie season. It’s been a pleasant surprise to watch him affect games positively when he checks in.

I love how Scottie Barnes is more offensively polished than even the biggest Raptor homer could have imagined.

I love how Dalano Banton has only played a handful of 905 games but is already too good for the G-League.

What I DON’T love? I just spit all these bars when I could have just shared this tweet.

February 14 @ New Orleans Pelicans

You’ve got to love the play-in tournament because of how divisive it’s become! There are folks who don’t care for it like Masai Ujiri and LeBron James (snickers). Then there are those who consider it as good as a playoff spot such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings (LOL). How else do you explain last week’s trade between the Blazers and Pelicans? On February 7, they essentially had similar records (Pelicans 21-32; Blazers 21-33) and ranked 10th and 11th respectively in the Western Conference standings.

Sitting that far down the standings with their star player, Damian Lillard, sidelined, Portland decided the time was right to tank. On the flip side, the Pelicans had worked their way back from a 1-12 start and felt the time was right to strike. And so, a trade partnership was formed and later consummated. New Orleans gave up a little of their present (Josh Hart) and future (Nickeil Alexander-Walker + 2022 first), while Portland gave up a little of their past and present (CJ McCollum).

McCollum provides a huge boost to New Orleans’ rather pedestrian 25th-ranked offense. He’ll immediately help in the pick-and-roll where he ranks 5th in points per possession (Pelicans rank 27th in PnR ball handler points per possession). Year-in and year-out, CJ ranks among the best in pull-up shooting. The Pelicans will take anything they can get to help the league’s least efficient jump-shooting team. In only his second game with the team, McCollum dropped 36 points, added 11 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists. Excited about a scenery change, are we?

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson on June 20, 2019.

The Pelicans traded for Jonas Valanciunas on August 7, 2021.

It’s quite possible that when this game against the Raptors is over, Jonas (579) will pass Zion (591) in total rebounds as a Pelican. Considering the hype that surrounded Williamson (and the rebounding excellence of Valanciunas), that’s an absolutely wild stat!

Prediction

This is a matchup of two of the most starter-reliant teams in the league. The Raptors and Pelicans rank 1st and 6th respectively in starters’ minutes per game. That means we’ll be seeing a lot of Fred VanVleet-Gary Trent Jr.-OG Anunoby-Pascal Siakam-Scottie Barnes matching up with Devonte’ Graham-CJ McCollum-Herbert Jones-Brandon Ingram-Jonas Valanciunas. When these teams faced each other last month — a 105-101 victory in Toronto — the Raptors were without Gary Trent Jr. while the Pelicans had not yet acquired McCollum. The insertions of those two sharpshooters don’t necessarily cancel each other out, especially when considering CJ’s history against Toronto. McCollum has never been mentioned as a Raptor Killer, but he’s been a major part of five straight victories over the Raptors (with the Blazers) and completes a starting lineup with explosive firepower.

I struggled with making this prediction. The Pelicans can combat in areas where Toronto excels — transition defense (#4 in points per possession allowed); Valanciunas (8th in defensive rebounding percentage) — and can take advantage of areas where Toronto struggles (4th in free throw rate; 5th in offensive rebounding percentage). Pelicans pull out a heart-breaking victory over the Raptors, 115-114.

February 16 @ Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s been almost exactly a year since these teams last faced each other. Ironically, it’s roughly the last time I remember seeing Yuta Watanabe on the court. (No, I will not be posting THAT video, you’ll see it plenty of times on the broadcast. The only visual I’ll post is the only one that matters.)

The T-Wolves have been one of the surprises of the season. Minnesota’s starting lineup of Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns, has the 3rd-best offensive rating and 4th-best net rating for lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes. That lineup also has the 4th-highest offensive rebounding percentage, higher than any of Toronto’s lineups.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Raptors and T-Wolves have eerily similar ranks across the board.

It’s almost as if Minnesota head coach, Chris Finch, and Nick Nurse have similar coaching philosophies or something.

Prediction

Over the last 2 weeks, Minnesota’s had the #1 offense in the league. However, if you dig a little deeper, five of their eight games were against the Pistons, Kings, and Pacers — three of the bottom six defenses in the league. On the flip side, Toronto’s had the #9 defense over the last 2 weeks, despite facing three of the top seven offenses — the Bulls, Hawks (x2), and Heat (x2) — AND winning four of those games.

The T-Wolves will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after facing the Hornets. Minnesota is 7-5 over their last 12 games, but three of those losses were also the back-end of their last three back-to-backs. These aren’t the pushover Timberwolves that Toronto’s used to beating up but the Raptors should have enough in the tank to finish up the pre-All-Star break portion of the schedule with a victory, winning 111-109.

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record for Predictions: 31-24