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The Rap-Up: Could this be the final home game for some Raptors?

The Raptors play a short-handed Grizzlies team and welcome back Kawhi Leonard and Norm Powell before embarking on a 6-game road trip that starts in Atlanta.

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster finally ripped off the band-aid that was covering a shotgun wound.

Pascal Siakam joined Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby as the last member of the post-Kyle-Lowry Big 3 to leave the Toronto Raptors.

Siakam’s departure stings more on multiple levels. On the court, he was the most accomplished with multiple All-NBA and All-Star selections. Siakam was the release valve when the offense got stagnant, the closer when games entered the clutch, and the floor spacer when his outside shot was falling. Off the court, Pascal was as Torontonian as the CN Tower. His Players’ Tribune post was a love letter to the city. DeMar DeRozan was upset when he got traded. Kyle Lowry knows he’ll retire a Raptor. But Pascal Siakam felt like he was one of us.

Toronto may never have a developmental story as successful as Siakam. We can continue giving him his flowers and reminiscing about his legacy, but there are still 39 games to play and 2+ weeks of trade speculation to occupy the timeline.

The headline player to come through from Indiana, Bruce Brown, is already in trade rumours. He has almost single-handedly turned the Raptors from a team with no leverage (pre-Siakam trade) to one operating with all of it. Brown’s skill set fits perfectly into the starting lineup (Teri-Jak-i BBBQ?). His team option next season gives Masai half a season to see if he figures into “Scottie timeline” and allows the front office to field trade proposals until next season’s deadline!

With Siakam off the team, the Raptors have (finally) outlined a path to success: continue building around Scottie while taking advantage of the current roster’s talent and contract flexibility. Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Trent Jr. are all on expiring contracts. Chris Boucher, Dennis Schroder, GTJ, and Brown will all be coveted by contending teams. The draft picks acquired from Indiana and New York, while not in the lottery, still offer Toronto more ammunition in trade talks.

One final note about this week’s games. After Friday’s game against the Clippers, Toronto embarks on a 6-games-in-11-days road trip. Their next home game will be the day after the trade deadline. In other words, Friday may be the last home game as a Raptor for multiple players!

January 22 vs Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis finished last season with the 2nd-best record in the West — no easy feat considering the competition — and followed that up by bringing in Marcus Smart to make up for the departure of Dillon Brooks. Here’s where the pre-season starting lineup currently stands:

Ja Morant — suspended for the first 25 games; played 9 games; out for the season with a shoulder injury

Marcus Smart — out for the next 5 weeks with a severe right finger injury

Desmond Bane — out for the next 5 weeks with an ankle injury

Steven Adams — underwent season-ending knee surgery before this season started

Jaren Jackson Jr. — insert Will Smith in the empty home meme

Outside of Luke Kennard’s $14.8 million team option next season, the Grizzlies can stroll into next season with a young, playoff-calibre rotation (Adams will be the “oldest” at 31), equipped with an MVP candidate, a DPOY winner, and a top-5 draft pick!

Fun fact that may only interest me

On December 17, 2004, GG Jackson was born. A couple of states over, in Louisiana, Garrett Temple was redshirting his freshman season at LSU. The 18-year gap is jarring!

Prediction

The Grizzlies have lost 4 of 5 since Smart’s injury was announced, with each loss looking progressively worse. They’re currently in the middle of a 4-game road trip that started with losses in Minnesota and Chicago. Taylor Jenkins had his team hovering around the top 10 in defense, but that’s fallen off (23rd over the last two weeks) as the injuries have piled up.

Toronto is 3-0 vs the Southwest division, having amassed victories over the Mavericks, Spurs, and these Grizzlies. When the Raptors visited Memphis on January 3rd, it was the first road game with RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley on the roster. Toronto withstood a fourth-quarter rally to come away with a vibes-inducing win.

This time around the Raptors won’t have Siakam, but the Grizzlies won’t have Morant, Bane, or Smart. Much to the chagrin of the pro-tankers, Toronto beats Memphis, 120-113.

January 26 vs Los Angeles Clippers

Count me in as one of the idiots who laughed at the James Harden trade and had no faith that he could help turn around a Clippers season that started slowly (5-8 in November after Harden was acquired).

The Clippers have won 19 of 23 games since December 1st. During this stretch, they have collected victories over 7 of the other 8 teams with the best records in the West.

On Sunday, L.A. overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets.....by closing the game on a 22-0 run!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Kawhi Leonard is on pace to play 74 games this season, which would easily surpass the total from any of his last 7 seasons. In fact, that would match his career-high which he achieved in the 2016-17 season with the San Antonio Spurs.

During that campaign, the other starters were Tony Parker, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol (who split time with Dewayne Dedmon, due to injury) — all of whom have retired or are not on an NBA roster.

Prediction

Toronto did very well when these teams met in Los Angeles two weeks ago. The lineups will look similar since Poeltl was already injured and Siakam was out too. Both teams shot at least 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 89% from the line. The Raptors fell short because Paul George was unconscious in the final frame, while Toronto was playing the back end of a back-to-back.

With 3 days of rest, the possible return of Jakob Poeltl (who is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Tuesday), and the Clippers losing Ivica Zubac for the next 4 weeks, the Raptors could be in line for an upset of the visiting Clippers.

Bruce Brown’s defense could be the missing piece as he’ll get a healthy dose of James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. With or without Poeltl, Jontay Porter had a bit of a coming-out party in L.A. when he scored 9 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists (each were season-highs for Raptors named Porter! Sorry).

The Clippers have the #1 offense over the last two weeks, while Toronto is an abysmal 1-9 when playing on Fridays. With the real possibility that this is the last home game for several Raptors, I think one or two surprise individual performances from the bench propel the Raptors past the Clippers, 125-123.

January 28 @ Atlanta Hawks

For someone who’s presumably on the trade block, Dejounte Murray’s building a great case for Landry Fields to ask for a king’s ransom.

As of this writing, Trae Young has entered the league’s concussion protocol. It’s hard to predict whether or not he’ll be able to suit up against the Raptors, but if Toronto’s luck this season is any indicator, I’m assuming Young will be in uniform!

Fun fact that may only interest me

There are three former Raptors currently in Atlanta but none of them will be playing in the game. The aforementioned Fields is the General Manager of the team. Antonio Lang, who played a grand total of 7 games as a Raptor, is an Assistant Coach. Seated just behind Quin Snyder is a member of Toronto’s championship-winning coaching staff, Brittni Donaldson!

Donaldson was a Data Analyst from 2017 to 2019 with the Raptors. After winning the championship, she made NBA history as the youngest-ever female coach (26 at the time), serving in that role until 2021. She, along with Jenny Boucek of the Pacers, is the only woman to coach for 3 different franchises (Donaldson also served on Dwane Casey’s staff last season). There are 6 female coaches currently on NBA staffs — Donaldson (30) is the youngest.

Prediction

Predicting games as the trade deadline approaches is always difficult (let alone the fact that I’m writing this 7 days before this specific game). With Murray on the trade block and the Hawks in a similar position — at least in the standings — as the Raptors, a second-half tank for Atlanta is a possibility. Unlike Toronto, though, the Hawks own their first-round pick!

While the losses have started to pile up for the Raptors, they have been able to pile on the points, especially against poor defenses. The Hawks have the 27th-ranked defense and, over the last 2 weeks, the 27th-ranked defense. Toronto kicks off this 6-game road trip with a 126-119 victory in Atlanta. (If you’re keeping track, and I’m correct on this week’s predictions — yes, it’s pizza party time!)

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record: 29-14

Raptors Analysis

Recap: Toronto Raptors vs Atlanta Hawks — 123-121 Raptors win a close one

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