Gameday: Raptors @ Magic, Dec. 28

Second game of a back-to-back, so we’ll skip the post-game and get right to tonight’s affair.

Following a close call in New Orleans where the Raptors blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead only to win in overtime, Toronto will look to make it seven of their last eight in Orlando tonight. The game goes at 7 p.m. on TSN, assuming no lockout news breaks, in which case it will probably be bumped to Teletoon or something.

The Magic come in at 12-17 to the Raptors’ 10-20, but the Raptors have two victories over the Magic so far, including one from last Friday. That was a game that almost got away late, so with the home court flipped we could be in for another exciting contest.

Tale of the Tape
O-Rating: Toronto 103.6 (17th), Orlando 100.7 (29th)
D-Rating: Orlando 102.7 (9th), Toronto 108.4 (27th)
Pace: Orlando 92.0 (13th), Toronto 90.6 (23rd)
Strength: Toronto TO% (3rd), Orlando D-Reb (4th)
Weakness: Toronto Fouling (30th), Orlando TO% (29th)

Positional Breakdown
Point Guard Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry v. Jameer Nelson and E’Twaun Moores
Edge: Raptors
Kyle Lowry looked excellent at both ends of the floor in his return last night, showing the hustle defense that was advertised this offseason and showing a willingness to make the extra pass and get teammates involved. As Jose Calderon tweeted after the game, it was “just one of those days” for him, and he should bounce back to his normal productive self. If Casey can find the right substitution pattern and these two can both accept slightly limited roles, the Raptors have a really nice duo at the point here. Nelson is decent but nobody to really game-plan for, though the guards should focus on going through screens instead of under them, as Nelson is more than willing to call his own number out of the pick and roll.

Wings DeMar DeRozan, Mickael Pietrus, Terrence Ross, Alan Anderson, Linas Kleiza and Landry Fields v. Arron Afflalo, J.J. Reddick, Moe Harkless, Hedo Turkoglu (questionable) and DeQuan Jones
Edge: Magic
Who knows which wings are going to get the run tonight in Casey’s odd, “play everybody a little bit here and there” wing rotation. I’d suggest he figure out which three or four he’s comfortable with and stick to it, because this is maddening. If it were up to me, I’d start Double-A and Double-D, use Ross as the first wing off the bench, and then let Fields try and get reacquainted with the team as the fourth wing. Pietrus and Kleiza are known commodities and don’t have the upside of the other wings. Regardless of who plays or how well, Afflalo and Reddick are both great and give the Magic their best chance to win. Afflalo was left to score at will last Friday and both he and Reddick showed a willingness and ability to move the ball. They’re both tough checks, so hopefully DeRozan isn’t too exhausted from playing 50 minutes to defend actively.

Bigs Ed Davis, Aaron Gray and Amir Johnson v. Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic, Josh McRoberts and Gustavo Ayon
Edge: Wash
It’s pretty bad when the Raptors can manage a wash without Bargnani and Valanciunas, but without Glen Davis the Magic are pretty thin in the front fourt. I’d expect to see both teams go small relatively often, with Kleiza or Anderson seeing time at the four against Afflalo or Turkoglu (if he plays). As it is, Vucevic killed the Raptors last Friday and has been a double-double machine, so he’ll really put Davis and Johnson to work and force them to be active on the defensive glass. There’s not really a place for Gray here excepting guarding Ayon, who looks just like Alvarez from Sons of Anarchy. Offensively, Davis can’t keep missing bunnies like he did last night, while Johnson needs to bring that same intensity for a second night, something he’s struggled with pretty much forever (note: this may be anecdotal but it sure feels like Amir doesn’t play well on back-to-backs).

The Picks
Vegas: Magic -3.5
Hollinger Ratings: Magic -4
Blake: Raptors by 5

I don’t believe in “having a team’s number” but the Raptors have two impressive wins against the Magic that have put some clear advantages on display. Kyle Lowry also didn’t play in either of those games, and he should be able to further exploit a thin Magic back-court. Down low, the Raptors have to be thankful to run into the Magic when they’re so thin, and Big Baby being out is a huge boost for the Raptors. If Toronto can get the Magic to play small, which we saw a lot of last Friday, it can help hide that thin front-court and let three wing players (NOT two point guards) get run. Afflalo and Reddick are the keys to focus in on defensively, but Reddick also gives up a lot on the other end.

Attack Nelson, hit the defensive glass hard, come home with seven wins in the last eight, and get ready for a six-game home stand with four or five winnable games on tap.

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