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Toronto Raptors v Denver Nuggets

The Rap-Up: Fun week ahead for Anunoby

With Jokic, Shai, Ant, and Giannis on deck this week, O.G. can further solidify his All-Defense status.

Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Last week was not a good week for the Raptors. (Jeez, thanks Captain Obvious!)

Between the questionable-to-bad-to-downright-egregious officiating and the mind-boggling rotation decisions, there’s a fair bit of negative energy floating around the Raptors recently. Don’t let your anger hide the fact that O.G. Anunoby is once again stating his case for the All-Defense team.

For this week’s Fun Facts, I shine a brighter light on Staples Canada’s spokesperson.

March 14 vs Denver Nuggets

During the playoffs last season, I put together a video compilation of the Raptors attacking Joel Embiid for seven straight possessions in Game 5 of the Toronto-Philadelphia series. The purpose was to highlight the Raptors’ belief that they could actually pull off an improbable comeback from an 0-3 deficit (Philly would ultimately win Game 6, of course). However, that tweet continues to be quoted, almost one year later, by anyone questioning Embiid’s defensive ability or MVP credibility. While Toronto was able to exploit Embiid during that sequence, Joel was still undoubtedly the best player in that series and is, yet again, making a push for this year’s MVP.

All of this is to say that the video below should not take away from the historic season that Nikola Jokic has put together. (It is, however, promising to see as the Raps prepare to play the Nuggets.)

Fun O.G. fact that may interest All-Defense voters

In last week’s matchup, Jokic’s primary defender was O.G. Anunoby. Here’s how he fared against O.G.:

  • 2 points, 1-of-3 shooting, 3 turnovers

Here’s how Jokic performed against all other Raptors:

  • 15 points, 5-of-7 shooting, 2 turnovers

Prediction

The Nuggets have not looked good at all since their narrow win over the Raptors last week. They were crushed at home by the Bulls, then followed that up with a deflating loss to the tanking Spurs. Denver might be without Michael Porter Jr., who was ejected on Friday after getting into a shoving match with Zach Collins.

Toronto enters this game with tons of rest after an underwhelming five-game road trip. With three days off before this three-game homestand, the Raptors will look to regain momentum for a playoff push (or continue sliding toward lottery mediocrity, for you pro-tankers out there).

I’m going to repeat last week’s Fun Fact to help guide this prediction. The Nuggets are 31-2 when Jokic has 10 or more assists and 12-14 when he doesn’t. The Raptors have held Jokic to single-digit assists in 12 out of 15 meetings (including last week’s near-win). I don’t see why O.G. Anunoby won’t repeat his defensive mastery over Jokic again. Toronto beats the visiting Nuggets, 115-107.

March 16 vs Oklahoma City Thunder

As far as positive seasons go, the Thunder’s 2022-23 campaign has got to be one of the best in the league. When Chet Holmgren went down with a season-ending foot injury before playing his first NBA minutes, it was easy to think OKC was headed for another lost season. Even if the Thunder end up in the lottery, this season has been a rousing success.

Oklahoma City is only a couple of losses back from the 5th seed(!) and has one of the easiest remaining schedules with upcoming games against Charlotte, Detroit, Indiana, Utah, and Portland. According to Basketball Reference, their odds of winning the conference are higher than both Los Angeles teams and even with the defending champions in Golden State.

Josh Giddey is a walking triple-double. Jalen Williams is second among all rookies in Win Shares and VORP — higher than Paolo Banchero. Lu Dort is generating serious buzz for All-Defense recognition. Isaiah Joe, who was waived by the Sixers before the season started, has been a revelation in Oklahoma City and is currently in the top 20 in the 3-pt FG%. All of the players in this paragraph are younger than Malachi Flynn.

Am I missing anyone? Oh yes, Shai gets a paragraph all to himself.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has evolved into a bonafide superstar. He’s in the top 5 in multiple categories: points, steals, win shares, VORP, 2-pt field goals, and free throws. The last stat is especially noteworthy as Gilgeous-Alexander should become the second player in NBA history to average at least 10 free throws a game AND make 90% of them. SGA is also on track to join elite company if he finishes with his current averages of at least 30 points, 1.5 steals, and 1 block: Michael Jordan (x3), LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade.

Fun O.G. fact that may interest All-Defense voters

When these teams met earlier this season, SGA’s primary defender was O.G. Anunoby. Here’s how he fared against O.G.:

  • 6 points, 2-of-4 shooting, 0 turnovers

Here’s how Shai performed against all other Raptors:

  • 22 points, 10-of-16 shooting, 3 turnovers

Prediction

The teams have traded wins over the last seven meetings. Since OKC thumped Toronto earlier this season, the Raptors should be in line for a win, correct?

Each of Shai’s two visits to Toronto in a Thunder uniform has ended in thrilling fashion. In 2019, SGA hit the go-ahead winning basket in a one-point win. In 2021, SGA hit the game-tying free throws with 34 seconds remaining, then assisted on Mike Muscala’s game-winning three-pointer in a one-point win. (This was the Justin Champagnie buzzer-beater that wasn’t a buzzer-beater!) It will be interesting to see how successful SGA’s drives end up being now that Jakob Poeltl is patrolling the paint (let alone the possibility of him being guarded by Anunoby). Toronto comes out with more desperation than the team that’s playing with house money and pulls out a 119-115 victory over OKC.

March 18 vs Minnesota Timberwolves

There are a lot of similarities between the Raptors and Timberwolves. Both teams have underachieved with coaches from the British Basketball League. Neither team has been three games over .500 at any point this season. Each squad seems destined for an extra game or two in the play-in tournament. Both teams have a rim protector averaging less than two blocks per game (1.7 for Jakob Poeltl; 1.4 for Rudy Gobert... insert eyes emoji). Both teams have wings that may receive their first All-Defense recognition.

Fun O.G. fact that may interest All-Defense voters

When these teams met on January 13th, Anthony Edwards’ primary defender was O.G. Anunoby. Here are his stats while being guarded by Anunoby:

2 points, 0-of-4 shooting, 3 turnovers

Here are Edwards’ stats while being guarded by any other Raptor:

20 points, 6-of-19 shooting, 4 turnovers

Prediction

Toronto catches a break against Minnesota. The Timberwolves will be playing in its third city in four nights and the second game of a back-to-back after playing in Chicago the night before.

Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t played since November 28. You’d figure the Timberwolves would shut him down with only a dozen games remaining... until you remember the Rudy Gobert trade and all the picks going to Utah.

The Timberwolves won the earlier matchup in Minnesota when D’Angelo Russell scored 16 points in a furious fourth quarter comeback. (Does that sound familiar?) The last time Minnesota won consecutive games against Toronto was 19(!) years ago. Kevin O’Neill was the Raptors Head Coach! Toronto ends the three-game home stand on a high note with a 122-112 victory over Minnesota.

March 19 @ Milwaukee Bucks

Remember when I wrote last week that the game in Denver (and the one against the Clippers in L.A.) was one of the final chances for a “statement win” for Toronto? This game in Milwaukee — the second of a back-to-back, on the road, against the #1 team in the NBA — is THE last opportunity for a season-defining victory.

After the Bucks defeated the Raptors on January 17, Milwaukee would lose in Cleveland before unleashing hell on the rest of the league. The Bucks would not lose again for another 42 days(!) as they reeled off a 16-game win streak. In fact, Milwaukee has only lost three games since they last played the Raptors — two of them without Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee has made some moves in preparation for a deep playoff run. By trading away Serge Ibaka (in the deal that brought in Jae Crowder) and signing Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard, the Bucks front office has cemented themselves as the most cringe-inducing in the league.

Fun O.G. fact that may interest All-Defense voters

When these teams last met on January 17, Giannis was out, so Anunoby’s defensive assignment was Brook Lopez. (Ah yes, the pre-Poeltl days) Here’s how Lopez fared against O.G.:

  • 0 points, 0-of-2 shooting, 1 turnover

Here’s how Brook performed against all other Raptors:

  • 25 points, 11-of-15 shooting, 0 turnovers

Prediction

The Bucks have one of the best home records in the league (28-6) and have two days of rest. This has all the symptoms of a “schedule loss” for Toronto... which obviously means the Raptors will win!

Seriously though, with how deflating the Raptors have played lately, I have far too many wins predicted in a week where they could foreseeably lose all four games. Milwaukee takes care of business and beats Toronto, 113-97.

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Last Week: 1-2

Season Record for Predictions: 40-28

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