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The Rap-Up: A much-needed All-Star break

On a day when love will be in the air, Toronto welcomes back a legend who was the heart of this franchise!

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The All-Star break has finally — mercifully — arrived!

This isn’t a case where the Raptors are in need of a break to stem the tide of a losing streak — wins and losses are no longer the focus as the team looks to develop a new nucleus. This also isn’t a case where the Raptors need to get healthy bodies back into shape — Toronto’s been one of the healthiest teams in the league.

The break comes at an opportune time because the team can actually take a step back and breathe!

After years of trade speculation and confusion surrounding the direction of the team, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster made 4 trades over the last month that overhauled the team’s roster and altered the direction of the franchise. The path forward is much clearer now, albeit rocky for the next year and a half, at least.

Out of the 18 players on the current roster, only 4(!) were on the team last season. Chris Boucher has fallen out of the rotation. Jakob Poeltl was previously traded by the team and is the second stint with the team just eclipsed the one-year mark. Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. are the only players resembling anything close to roster continuity.

This break offers a chance for the coaching staff to figure out how they want to develop the young players while building chemistry for a post-All-Star run at the play-in. This break offers a chance for the team to get some practice together. Heck, this break offers a chance for players to get to know each other!

But before the much-needed break, the team first needs to welcome back a Raptors legend!

February 12 vs San Antonio Spurs

As is customary in February, the San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of their annual rodeo road trip. When the Spurs visit Scotiabank Arena, they’ll be playing their 4th road game of the trip. With 5 more road games — and an All-Star break in between — the Spurs will be traveling for over three weeks across 14,000 kms!

In stark contrast, the Raptors will be playing all but 2 of their games at home between February 7 and March 7!

Let’s rewind to last season. The Spurs got off to a surprisingly good start. They had a 5-2 record with wins over good teams in Philadelphia and Minnesota (x 2), and riding a two-game win streak. Toronto strolled into town and handed San Antonio its worst loss in franchise history — a 143-100 rout. The Spurs would go on to lose 14 of its next 15 games. The Raptors' loss was a turning point, perhaps.

Fast forward to this season. The Spurs got off to a surprisingly good start. They had a 3-2 record with wins over playoff-bound teams in Houston and Phoenix (x 2), and riding a two-game win streak. Toronto strolled into town and stunned the San Antonio crowd by overcoming a 22-point deficit to win in overtime. The Spurs would go on to lose its next 17 games. The Raptors’ loss was a turning point, perhaps.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Which jaw-dropping Victor Wembanyama shall we choose?

It’s not even the All-Star break but Wemby has amassed more total blocks (143) and total steals (53) than Rudy Gobert collected during his 2017-18 season (129 and 44, respectively), when he won his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

Victor’s already collected more total rebounds (469) than LeBron James did in his rookie year (432).

Wembanyama’s VORP (1.6) is more than three times larger than the next highest in the 2023 draft class (Brandin Podziemski, 0.5), but still trails Chet Holmgren’s 2.4 VORP among rookies.

Holmgren also leads Wembanyama in Western Conference Rookie of the Month honours (2-1).

Prediction

The front office would never allow it but a Raptors loss here could help Toronto land a solid prospect in the upcoming draft. If the Raptors land a top-6 pick, they’d convey the pick they owe the Spurs to the following draft. Alternatively, a Spurs loss could help San Antonio land a solid prospect in the upcoming draft by pushing Toronto further away from a bottom-6 finish (and better draft lottery odds).

Regardless, the Spurs don’t have the roster nor the talent to pull off wins with any regularity. In that sense, San Antonio and Toronto appear to be in similar situations. Each is led by dynamic players who will surely have many All-Star appearances in their respective futures. Neither team really cares much about wins and losses, but rather the development of their respective stars.

Toronto has won the last 6 meetings with the Spurs. Scottie Barnes’ superhuman performance (17 points, 2 steals, and 2 blocks) in the 4th quarter of the last matchup should fuel another solid outing for the All-Star. Toronto wins easily 122-108 over the visiting Spurs.

February 14 vs Indiana Pacers

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Siakam’s a Pacer,

We’re now Indy fans too.

Since acquiring Pascal Siakam, the Pacers have a 6-7 record (while the Raptors are 4-9. What. Not me comparing.). Indiana’s defense (25th) hasn’t improved since Spicy P joined the team, and neither has the offense (14th). Part of that is due to Tyrese Haliburton missing five games. Part of that is simply because Siakam’s addition wasn’t to turn around a below-average defense, but to improve it ever-so-slightly while adding another layer to Indiana’s record-breaking offense.

Whether it’s seeing Siakam’s smile light up the hallways of Scotiabank Arena or the touching tribute video he will surely receive, Pascal’s return to Toronto will be an emotional rollercoaster — on Valentine’s Day too!

Fun fact that may only interest me

With his second All-Star selection, Haliburton is one appearance shy of the three All-Star selections for his cousin, Lakers and Heat legend, Eddie Jones. (Actually, two of his All-Star appearances were with Los Angeles while the third was in his only full season with Charlotte)

They played in different eras but it’s still eye-popping to see what Tyrese has already accomplished when compared to the 14-year veteran.

If you combine the assists per game averages for Jones’ three best seasons — 4.2 (‘99-’00), 3.7 (‘98-’99), and 3.7 (‘02-’03) — the 11.6 total would still be lower than Haliburton’s current assists per game, 11.7.

Prediction

This is the last game before the All-Star break for both teams. For the Pacers, it’s an opportunity to put a stamp on a successful pre-All-Star campaign (before hosting All-Star Weekend) where Indiana is on pace to record the highest Offensive Rating in NBA history (currently tied with the Celtics at 121.3), surpassing the Kings’ 119.4 rating last season.

Indiana is 0-16 when scoring 110 or less. That shouldn’t be an issue against a Toronto squad that has only held opponents to 110 or less in 4 of its 21 games in 2024. The defensive juggernauts of Nick Nurse and Dwane Casey are a thing of the past.

The Raptors were able to win a shootout, 132-131, in the only other matchup between these teams this season. That victory, however, was only possible because of a 36-point outburst......by Pascal Siakam. Womp. Womp. Toronto’s defense (28th over the last two weeks) can’t keep up with Indiana’s breakneck pace as the Raptors fall 135-123 to Siakam’s new team.

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record: 34-19

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