The Raptors are 1-1 on the first half of this Western swing; I’ll take it. In fact, in the last 8 quarters, the Raptors have only played poorly in 2 (maybe 3, but the second quarter in Dallas can’t be considered horrible) of them. Tonight, they roll into the AT&T Center to face the Spurs, a team many of us (me included) circled as a loss. With Duncan on his last legs, they brought in Antonio McDyess and Richard Jefferson, this summer, to try and make a final run or two at their 5th championship. I for one am a big fan of this organization, jealous in fact. For over a decade, this team has been a perennial power through great drafting, free agent signings, player development and a bit of luck.
The Spurs are 2-3 so far this season, with both wins coming at home to lesser teams: New Orleans and Sacramento. The story tonight is that Tony Parker will be out with a sprained ankle. He is only expected to miss a week, but he is the cog that powers the Spurs engine. We talked about it in the podcast that should be going up at some point today, but looking at the next four games (Spurs, Bulls, Clippers and Suns) we could go 3-1. I realize this is seriously optimistic, but the one thing the Raptors have done very well this season is take advantage when their opponents have shown any weakness.
The Point: With Calderon returning, albeit slowly, to form the last two games, and Jack leading the 2nd unit, we look good in this match-up. The combination of Roger Mason Jr. and George Hill doesn’t really strick fear into my heart. Mason has carved out a nice niche for himself, but he’s a spot up shooter, who doesn’t have the ability to break down defenses off the dribble. Don’t know much about Hill, but I am guessing there isn’t much there, not saying he sucks, but that Jack should be able to handle him.
The Edge: Raptors
The Skill: DeRozan is coming off his worst game as a Raptor, so is Belinelli. Big time gut check for our rook, as he comes face-to-face with one of the best in the game: Ginobili. For the last couple seasons, Manu has come off the bench, but plays starter minutes. Wright should split time at 2 and 3, helping on the defensive end, but since he wont be playing the whole game, Ginobili is primed to go off.
The Edge: Spurs
The Swingman: Turkoglu is also coming off his worst showing of the season, and should be good to make up for it. The pick-n-roll with Bosh will be crucial, as the Spurs always fight through them, and rarely switch, giving Hedo a bit of space to operate. This is where things start to get interesting. The Spurs went out and got Jefferson for close to nothing. Jefferson, as we all know, is a Raptor killer. Every-time he has played us over the last few years, he has come up big when it mattered. He has started the season slow, but dropped 19 in a losing effort to the Blazers on Friday, in fact, he had the most impact during the game (check the player impact chart).
The Edge: Even
The Big: This is where match-ups become interesting. The Spurs are rotating Duncan/Bonner/McDyess/Blair in at the 4/5. For the most part, Bonner is getting the nod at 4, which means Bosh is licking his chops. I like Bonner, always have, but he has a long night in store. Between covering Bosh in the paint, and Bargnani on the perimeter, my guess is that his minutes will be limited. If McDyess isn’t injured, he will be getting the bulk of the minutes at the other forward position. If he is, Bonner and Blair will be splitting time. Regardless, I like Chris in this match-up. Our boy is putting up MVP calibre numbers to start the year, with most of his damage coming in the paint.
The Edge: Raptors
The Strong: Bargnani is the reason that Duncan will not be covering Bosh, IMHO. Bonner/McDyess/Blair can’t be on the perimeter chasing VL around. I mean, Bonner could, but he wont do a good job; McDyess plays better post defense; and Blair is a rookie who will make rookie mistakes. Bargnani hasn’t really played poorly so far this season. Our boy needs touches, and in an effort to keep Duncan on his heels, will have plenty this game. Duncan needs to be attacked from the opening tip, which is easier said then done.
The Edge: Raptors (sorry, I had put Spurs, but meant to put Raptors here)
Keys to Winning
- Attack Duncan off the dribble. His knee is suspect
- Calderon/Jack need to push the ball at all times, the Spurs point situation is more suspect then Duncan’s knees
- Don’t be afraid to play Wright more at the 2 if DeRozan is getting lit up by Manu
- Rebound the hell out of the ball. Portland grabbed 48 to the Spurs 37 on Friday, they are vulnerable here
Antonio McDyess (playing hurt)
The Spurs are -6.5 favourites with an over/under of 202.5
The Raptors need to take advantage of Parker’s injury, but it wont be easy. This is a veteran, battle tested team that wont let up. I said in the podcast that this is the type of game the Raptors can win, and they could easily be 3-1 this week, but I don’t think it will happen: Spurs by 8 (I’m 2-2 with predictions so far).