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Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Minutes problem? What minutes problem?

The Raptors finish up a brutal 6 games in 8 nights stretch with their first game against Goran Dragic, another date with Dwane Casey, and a gut check meeting with the Cavs.

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Call me a curmudgeon, but I honestly don’t see the issue with the Toronto Raptors starters playing heavy minutes.

Let’s focus on the league leader, Fred VanVleet, who currently averages 38.2 minutes per game. The last time the minutes total was that “high” was 2015-16 when James Harden averaged 38.1 with Houston. Before 2016, the league leader in minutes averaged more than VanVleet in each and every ABA or NBA season. In other words, if you were to rank every league leader in minutes played from most to least, Fred’s average would rank 69th out of 75!

Historically, NBA teams would play their best players many more minutes than what’s being played recently. League leaders in 56 of the 75 seasons averaged more than 40 minutes per game. Wilt Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes (not a typo) in 1961-62. More recently, Monta Ellis averaged 41.4 in 2009-10. LeBron James has SEVEN seasons where he averaged more minutes than what VanVleet has averaged this season.

Now that we’ve looked at how his averages stack up to his predecessors, let’s see how VanVleet’s totals compare to others. If FVV plays every remaining game at his current average, he’ll end the season with 2,862 minutes total. That would be the 2nd-lowest, 82-game schedule total in league history!

One last point about the team’s minutes. Do you remember the initial uproar surrounding Kawhi Leonard and his periodic rest days during the championship season? Load management changed from a term that needed quotations to a common phrase throughout NBA circles. Alex McKechnie and Toronto’s medical and training staff are known throughout the league as the best of the best. I’d like to think that over the last 4 seasons, McKechnie and Nick Nurse have discussed and planned the best course of action to maximize player usage while not over-working them.

The season was supposed to be a bridge year between the Kyle Lowry and FVV/Siakam eras. It was supposed to be a season of observation and evaluation. A chance to finally see, after a lost season in Tampa, what the FVV/Siakam/OG Anunoby core could do and how the highest draft pick since Andrea Bargnani would fit. The Raptors have managed to carefully balance the future (Scottie Barnes’ development) with the present (FVV/Siakam as the team’s next All-Star duo), at the expense of playing the starting five for 72-80% of regulation minutes.

For all those fans that complained last season for a competitive team, your wish was granted much quicker than anticipated. As my daughter’s teacher tells her students that whine, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

Damn, I really am starting to sound like a curmudgeon.

February 28 @ Brooklyn Nets / March 1 vs Brooklyn Nets

Despite playing the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks twice each within the same week, this marks the first (and hopefully only) time this season the Raptors will have a double-header. Last season, Toronto played 6 double-headers. The team won 9 of the 12 games, sweeping three of the sets (Charlotte, Orlando, and Milwaukee).

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, and Joe Harris — conceivably four of the team’s five starters when everyone’s healthy — will all miss the first game of the double-header. (And very likely the second game, especially with Canada’s vaccine mandate still in place.)

That’s a combined $124,782,243 in salary sitting on the bench.

Fun fact that may only interest me

With Goran Dragic’s illustrious Raptors career now over, let’s take a look at where his franchise totals rank among some memorable players to play for Toronto:

  • Games: T-229th, just behind Nathan Jawai
  • Assists: T-183rd, just behind Lonnie Baxter
  • Steals: T-185th, just behind Maceo Baston
  • 3-pointers made: T-125th, just behind Jason Thompson
  • Points: T-189, just behind Kornel David

Whether or not you can remember any of the other five names listed above, it’s safe to assume they were each appreciated more than Dragic!

Prediction

Since Kevin Durant went down with an MCL sprain in mid-January, Brooklyn has only won 5 of 19 games. In two of those victories, James Harden was still on the team and Irving played. One road victory — this time without Irving — came against the slumping Knicks, while another occurred on Saturday, where the Nets needed all of Kyrie’s season-high 38 points to squeak by the Bucks. The fifth victory came at home against the lowly Kings.

If we go all the way back to Toronto’s last visit to Barclays Center in December (a 131-129 overtime win for Brooklyn), the Nets have gone 4-11 at home since. Brooklyn’s injury woes may be just what the doctor ordered for a Toronto squad that’s been blown out in three of their last four games. The Raptors get the confidence boost they need and sweep both games, winning 110-105 in Brooklyn, then 119-108 in Toronto.

March 3 vs Detroit Pistons

Hey, look, another team that’s gone 3-9 in February! (That concludes any bad-mouthing towards the Pistons)

The Pistons have lost to every team in the NBA this season.....except the Raptors.

Detroit is 2-0 against Toronto this season.....and 1-9 against the rest of the Atlantic division.

Detroit is 1-9 when playing on a Friday this season.....thankfully, this game occurs on a Thursday, because guess who that one Friday victory came against?

Last season, the Pistons only won 20 games. 25% of those wins came against Toronto (3-0) and Oklahoma City (2-0).

I probably didn’t need to go over all those stats. If anything, it validates what we’ve seen on the court. Dwane Casey’s championship every year is each game that’s played against the Raptors!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Since hiring Casey as Head Coach in 2018, Detroit has winning records against only four opponents: Houston (4-3), Phoenix (5-3), Cleveland (8-6), and Toronto (8-3).

As an aside, over that same span, the Pistons are a combined 2-25 against the Bucks and Hornets — with both of those wins happening in their most recent meetings!

Prediction

Detroit has the 29th-ranked offense in the league. They rank between 27th and 29th in EVERY area on the offensive side of the floor: Rim, Short-Mid, Long-Mid, All Mid, Corner Three, Non-Corner Three, All Threes. The Pistons average 103 points per game. The Raptors starters average 93 points alone!

But....

....we’ve seen this story before. I’ve specifically piled a ton of numbers into this preview to illustrate a point. There is no rhyme or reason as to why the Pistons continue beating the Raptors. Toronto should blow them out every time they face each other. The Raptors have more talent than the Pistons. Nick Nurse is a better coach than Dwane Casey — and has the championship ring to prove it.

But....

.....Detroit manages to pull out a victory time and time again. As much as I should be predicting a Raptors blowout, I’ll go against my better judgment and say that the Pistons will win again, 113-106.

March 4 vs Orlando Magic

In a lost season, the Magic got some good news over the weekend as Markelle Fultz announced his return. I honestly couldn’t be happier that Fultz will be back on the court. He’s still young enough that he’s got time to turn his career around. He certainly earned some “best teammate” brownie points with Cole Anthony!

Cole Anthony has quietly put together a solid season, averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Only 10 other players can claim to reach those figures. Franz Wagner is second among rookies in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Jalen Suggs had his first double-double (20 points, 10 assists) against Phoenix before the break and currently sits in second in steals among rookies with 1.3 per game. Wendell Carter Jr. is one of only 14 players averaging at least 14 points and 10 rebounds. Mo Bamba is a few blocks shy (1.8) from joining Jaren Jackson Jr. and Myles Turner as the only players to average 1 three and 2 blocks per game. Dare I say, the Orlando Magic has a promising core!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Markelle Fultz is younger than Malachi Flynn.

I’m not sure if that’s fun or depressing. Both entered the league with different levels of hype — appropriate for where each was drafted. Both have been disappointments for different reasons.

But considering how long of a road it’s been for Fultz to get to where he is today, it’s mind-boggling to me that he’s still younger than Flynn!

Prediction

Similar to the Nets and Pistons, the Magic are another Raptors opponent this week that could only muster three victories in February. Despite the disappointing outing in Atlanta over the weekend, the Raptors still have one of the best records in the NBA when playing the second game of a back-to-back (which may improve if they defeat the Nets on Tuesday). This matchup is another case of Toronto facing a putrid offense — only without the shadow of Dwane Casey hovering over. The Raptors get a confidence-boosting 118-107 victory over the Magic.

March 6 @ Cleveland Cavaliers

Considering Toronto’s recent bad luck with injuries to Anunoby and VanVleet, this week’s combination of poor competition (Detroit and Orlando) and injury luck (Brooklyn and Cleveland) may help the team out of their current funk.

The Cavaliers will be without Caris LeVert, Rajon Rondo, and possibly Darius Garland (to go along with the season-ending injury to Collin Sexton).

Both meetings earlier this season were memorable for their own reasons. On November 5th, the Raptors were riding a 5-game win streak and facing a Cavaliers team that many fans, myself included, were reluctant to believe had a good team. Cleveland would pull out a tight 102-101 victory and continue growing as the East’s surprise team of the season.

The other meeting is the turning point of the season. There is no lower point than missing all your starters (and seven of your top eight rotation players) and losing by 45(!) points on the road. Granted, Cleveland was also missing eight players, including Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, but having Darius Garland, Ricky Rubio, and Kevin Love is much better than starting DJ Wilson, Dalano Banton, and Svi Mykhailiuk.

Fun fact that may only interest me

This marks the first time this season that Siakam will face the Cavaliers. When he’s played, the Raptors have won 6 of their last 8 games against Cleveland. One of those losses was last season when the Raptors had begun their tank.

How he performs against, arguably, the toughest frontcourt duo in the league will go a long way in determining how far this team can go in the playoffs and if Siakam can add to his All-NBA resume.

Prediction

Even without Garland, Cleveland is one of the rare teams that have as much, if not more, length and versatility than the Raptors. Allen, Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen are all taller and longer than anyone the Raptors throw at them. We’ve already seen how the Raptors struggle against big men....multiply that by 3! Cleveland has too good of a defense lining up against the NBA’s worst offense (over the last 2 weeks). Cavaliers beat the Raptors, 104-98.

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Last Week: 0-2

Season Record for Predictions: 33-26

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