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Toronto play five of six on the road beginning tonight in Charlotte: Preview, start time and more

The surging Raptors begin a mini-road trip tonight in Charlotte. The young veterans gave Charlotte a wake up call two weeks ago — and have won five of their last six games since that matchup. Is the season narrative shifting for Toronto after their 9-13 start?

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

How many more positive sentiments can we state about this Raptors team right now? We’re two weeks into the newest release of beta testing Nick Nurse has been rolling out for the current Raptors rotation to execute, and it now includes wins stacked on wins in addition to the minutes stacked equally high. The question I have is: when is this roster going gold?

With tertiary scoring coming in the form of a Gary Trent or OG Anunoby; Chris Boucher doing everything in his power to become the league’s best centre paid fewer than 10 million dollars; Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa devouring rebounds like Mini-Entenmann’s; Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam playing like All-NBA superstars, let’s see, what else is there...

Ah yes, we still have the trade deadline to look forward to!

Charlotte enters Monday evening’s contest with a 2-4 record since their loss to Toronto on January 25, largely due to their inability to play any defense on the perimeter. The tandem of Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball is proving to be near fish-net level of resistance on blow-by drives, leaving interior defenders — career Dikembe’s Mason Plumlee and... (well, this can’t be right) Miles Bridges — as the only thing stopping quick guards at the basket. It isn’t working.

Pascal Siakam picked this defense apart as a point guard, and with Van Vleet set to start tonight, Charlotte won’t get a chance to use those notes they took from the last dressing down. Charlotte still finds ways to win, however. Ball is an electric player with an ability to get white hot from anywhere on the court, and a swagger to take any shot he wants to. Toronto will have to stay focused all game and keep the Rookie of the Year winner in check — the same way they forced Trae Young into one of his worst offensive performances of the season on Friday.

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Where to Watch:

TSN, 7 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred Van Vleet, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

Charlotte — LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, Mason Plumlee

Injuries:

Toronto — Goran Dragic (not with team)

Charlotte — Jalen McDaniels (ankle — out)

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If Toronto goes 22-9 in their final 31 games...

Nick Nurse will finish with his third 50-win season in four years.

This year has been one of the biggest question mark seasons in the Masai Ujiri era, hands down. After landing the fourth overall pick in the draft, selecting Scottie Barnes, not making any significant additions aside from the rookie — fans had no idea where this team would be post-Lowry, with a new look, revamped roster.

Well, it looks like we’re primed to be where we always are these days: right in the thick of things, at the very least. After taking over for Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, Nick Nurse quickly bottled up 58 wins and an NBA title before the ink could dry on his contract. Four years later, he’s still finding ways to impress and mystify Toronto fans. This season could be one of his best ensembles to date.

Dare I say, Coach of the Year?

Toronto’s Playoff Chances

Looking at a few of the more well-known predictive simulation systems, Toronto is currently looking at Play-In odds of 4-to-5, or 80 percent (and a final record of 45-37). Using their BPI predictive system, ESPN has them pegged at 70 percent (and finishing 44-38), but with a higher probability to win the championship than Chicago (1.8 percent to 1.5) — a strange about-face.

At playoffstatus.com, a website I just came across this morning, the trend of “dark horse” playoff team continues — with Toronto showing a 73 percent chance to make the playoffs, and a higher than average chance to win the conference and NBA championships. Example: current higher seeds like the Mavericks and Nuggets, for instance, have a lesser chance to win the title — perhaps in part due to more disparity between the top and middle in the West, or perhaps due to an emerging data trend in Toronto’s gameplay that has yet to reveal itself to our puny human eyes.

A Glitch in the Matrix

These simulations take into account a range of data points, and something in Toronto’s current trend indicates a substantial strength that could carry the team into a surprisingly deep playoff run — not just a simple playoff appearance. At BBR, Boston currently has the highest difference in seeding/title chances with a 16 percent chance to win the East, and a five percent chance to beat whomever comes out of the West — higher than the defending champs, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Finally, FiveThirtyEight’s outdated (almost archaic, at this point) system shows a traditional, conservative “everybody stays where they are, and the current best team will be the best team in June” approach. Yeesh. After the 2016 Presidential debacle, you’d think they would alter their predictive methods to be a little more responsive to current data...

Anyway, enjoy the game tonight!