In these set of games, Toronto has averaged a point differential of 14.8 (let’s round it up to 15). Stop for a moment and realize just how dominant that number is. In the last 16 games — or roughly 1/5th of the entire regular season — Toronto has beaten teams by an average of 15 points. Fif-teen.
That one glaring loss in the last 16 games? A thrilling 122-119 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Remember when Valanciunas was foule-… I mean, tied the game in the final moments with a ‘heavily-contested’ dunk. I’ll leave it at that. It’s not like it hasn’t been three weeks since that game and I should be totally over it.
With all that being said, let’s face it: Raptors fans have been spoiled lately.
Video: Jalen Rose has faith in a Toronto Raptors playoff run | NBA Countdown | ESPN
Jonas Valanciunas with the dunk to send it to OT!pic.twitter.com/3RU8OUROHV
Toronto Raptors: How much will their bench matter in the playoffs?
The number 16 happens to be a massively important one in Toronto. Not necessarily due to what the Raptors’ accomplishments in the last 16 games, but rather what the final 16 of the regular season entail. Dwane Casey and his team have squarely entered the drivers seat of the Eastern Conference as their star guards have taken turns toying with NBA teams, all while the self-named “Bench Mob” has wreaked havoc on opposing reserve units.
In terms of crucial games, one could argue Toronto has three remaining. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics twice. The remaining 13 contests are littered with middle-to-lower tier Eastern and Western Conference playoff teams (Pacers twice, Heat, Pistons, Nuggets, Clippers, etc.) as well as their fair share of conference minnows (Nets twice, Mavericks, Magic etc.). An overall strength of schedule of .493 (ranked 14th in the NBA).
The prevailing question lingers: Should Dwane Casey and his staff opt to (strategically) rest the core players (Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, Valanciunas) throughout the final run of the season?
If things break right, we could get a National Championship rematch between Villanova and North Carolina. Ill be on time for that.
This doesn’t fundamentally require Casey to rest all core players on certain nights, or even in more dramatic (and obviously asinine) fashion — begin resting them immediately until the playoffs begin. This would mean a carefully thought-out game-specific strategy where for example, you would see Lowry and Ibaka rest one game, DeRozan another, and Valanciunas another. This would seemingly mean more minutes on the court for the bench players, but also gives opportunity to the so-far, so-good 13th and 14th roster spots occupied by Malcolm Miller and newly-acquired sharpshooter Nigel Hayes. In limited playing time, Miller has proved his worth at the back-end of the Raptors rotation, offering ‘3 & D’ ability while Hayes — who was recently plucked off the New York Knicks G-League affiliate, Westchester Knicks — shot a blistering 44% from 3PT range on 5.8 attempts per game in his dominating G-league stint. For those who went channel-surfing after Toronto took a 20-some point lead on the Knicks late in the 4th quarter, Nigel Hayes subbed in, and immediately hit two corner-threes — one being directly in front of the Knicks bench, all to whom he had some choice words and antics (at the 0:15 second mark, for those interested).
[email protected] alum @NIGEL_HAYES with back-to-back triples for his points as a member of the @Raptors! pic.twitter.com/CPRl3NT85k
As much as resting players may make sense for Toronto, especially considering their league-best roster depth, many believe (and rightfully so) the Raptors can start their best five while effectively resting them at the same time. Lowry and DeRozan are naturally mid-high 30 minute players, but again — in the last 16 games, they’ve averaged only 29 and 31 minutes respectively. Saving those 6-10 minutes for both players during this last chunk of the season has been as important as ever. Raptor fans aren’t used to this. They’re used to seeing their star backcourt look lethargic and exhausted by regular seasons’ end.
The Toronto Raptors seem to be writing a different story this time around.
Raptors Pitched DeMar DeRozan On Shooting More Three-Pointers
The Raptors are looking for their ninth win in a row tonight against a Nets team that has gone 2-13 since the beginning of February. This is how it always goes with bad teams. They believe in themselves, they try hard, but eventually the talent gap just becomes too big to overcome. Brooklyn is currently ranked 25th in offensive ranking, and 23rd on defense. The stories about Spencer Dinwiddie, or Caris LaVert, or DAngelo Russell, or whoever, have come to an end. They are not good.
But Toronto, as I said, is ripping and running right now. Look at this here from Zach Lowe: the Raptors might be real, and getting better. To which all I will add is: [man from beginning of Drakes Gods Plan video voice] Thats it! Thats it! Yeah!
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Brooklyn – DAngelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Jarrett Allen (questionable; so, maybe Tyler Zeller? Who cares.)
The Nets continue to be the unwilling tank-a-thon team. They give a good effort every time out, but are just not good enough. They do have some draft picks coming now, but still not those top-5 or top-10 picks theyll need to truly turn things around.
As of right now, their best player by most advanced measures is Spencer Dinwiddie; but theres nothing about his numbers that jumps off the page, and a lot of his value comes from being just a solid player with nothing remarkable around him. Nik Stauskas has continued to be a competent three-point shooter, putting in 41% since coming over in the Trevor Booker trade. But with the other aspects of his game, including lagging defensive skills, Stauskas has struggling to stay on the floor for an extended period. The Nets are also starting our old friend DeMarre Carroll, and while hes seen a resurgence of sorts, some of that can be attributed to playing a larger part in a worse offense. Carrolls FG% and EFG% have barely moved from last year, although he is making a few more of his 3s. Good for him!
This is usually around the time where someone, me, anyone, mentions that this is a prime candidate for a classic Raptors letdown game. The team is coming off a huge win against the Rockets on Friday night, an easy beatdown of the Knicks (with a 1pm start time), and then a Monday filled with plaudits galore. I mentioned the Lowe column up there, but just google the Raptors right now and youll find a bunch of stories, and collected power rankings, all touting Toronto as the best.
Its very cool. But since were also Toronto sports fans, its also when we start to get nervous. Being bad, becoming a disappointment, underachieving — these are things we understand. But winning? Being the absolute best? Becoming the favourite? This is almost unheard of, especially in the NBA.
So long story short: lets just forget all the talk about this being a trap game for the Raptors. The Nets try hard, yes, they have a couple of decent players, and sure maybe DeMarre Carroll will be extra motivated (which is adorable). But Toronto can still just play their game and win. Thats it.
Speaking of playing their game, while I dont like that OG Anunoby is still injured (pour one out for the Quote of the Week tomorrow), I do like how the Raptors are uncovering different things at the three-spot right now.
First it was Norman Powell finding himself a bit against Detroit, and proving himself a bit useful on defense against the Rockets. Then it was Malcolm Miller coming in and dropping seven quick points out of nowhere in that same Houston game, and generally carrying himself like he belongs.
And hey, look at that, Nigel Hayes! The man came in, hit two straight 3s against the Knicks on Sunday, and called it a day. If you want to stay in the NBA these days, be a smart, 68 swing man who can shoot 3s and youll be fine.