Our beloved Toronto Raptors start a four-game road trip tonight with a visit to Dallas to take on the 15-10 Mavericks (8:30 p.m. tip off, Sportsnet One on the broadcast).
On the bright side, you get to watch Dirk Nowitzki rain jumpers from all over the court which is always a treat, a treat we may not get many more times.
On the downside, this is likely the second of what promises to be at least a four-game losing streak. Following Wednesday’s heartbreaker against Charlotte, the Raptors now visit Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio before breaking for Christmas, then return with a home-and-home against the Knicks. Maybe the Knicks are victories, maybe not, most likely it’s a split. In any case, they’ll almost certainly enter the game at Madison Square Garden on the 27th on a four-game skid.
And allow me a rant here: the NBA sucks. I understand that many fans have now switched gears to taking the long-view and are hopeful of more losing than winning for the rest of the season. I understand completely that for the long-term success of the franchise, it probably behooves the team to lose to improve lottery odds and improve the chances of getting a better pick. I am not stupid, I understand these things. My distaste for tanking is nothing new, and I’ve softened on the Raptors doing it, but goddam if it isn’t infuriating to see fans openly rooting against the team. Wednesday’s game was a perfect example, with many fans pleased with the outcome; after all, close, entertaining games that end in a loss are the best-case scenario for fans of the tank. But I just invested three hours in that thing, and I invest a ton of time, energy and (sadly) emotion into this team, there’s no way I can bring myself to root for Kemba Walker to hit a game-winning overtime buzzer-beater. I just can’t. Long term, sure, it makes all the sense in the world. But I’m not rooting for individual losses in the moment, ever, just like I won’t look at a tough stretch of games and think “awesome, losing streak.” You’re free to, and I understand, I just can’t do it and it drives me nuts that the realities of the NBA allow for and encourage rooting against your team.
Anyway, let’s break this thing down.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez vs. Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin
I miss Calderon here in Toronto (reminder: I named my dog Jose) but the Raptors recently acquired a lite version of him in Vasquez, and Lowry is of course a more complete player. larkin could be a nice player and Monta Ellis spends some time at the point that increases the difficulty of the match-up, but for the most part Raptor guards just have to be ready for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. Offensively, this is a match-up to exploit, because as you may recall, Calderon isn’t exactly a terrific defender. I’d also expect to see plenty of two-guard looks from Dwane Casey, as Ellis is a small two.
Wings: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and John Salmons vs. Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder and Vince Carter
BOOOOO. Shit, sorry, we’re in Dallas, not Toronto. Ellis can fill it up and has been far more efficient this year than in year’s past (it’s almost like playing alongside another really good offensive player can make things easier for someone). Marion remains a top-shelf defender and will probably draw the DeRozan assignment, meaning DeRozan may have one of his long-two games. hopefully he stays aggressive and attacks off the bounce, even with the difficult check. Carter off the bench is a nice look for Dallas, too, though he’s shot horribly to start the year. Crowder and Marion, by the way, basically play as interchangeable forwards, splitting time between the three and four.
Bigs: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson vs. Dirk Nowitzki, Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair
I mean, it’s Dirk, what do you want me to say? He’s one of the best to ever do it and remains a very efficient scorer. The Mavericks do a nice job getting Nowitzki the ball in many different situations, though it’s been his post-up game that’s been his greatest weapon so far (he ranks seventh in the league in points per post up). As for the others, Dalembert is another nice test for Valanciunas on the offensive end and Blair will keep everyone working for boards. It’s all about Nowitzki here, though.
Vegas says: Mavericks -6 with 72 percent of public action on Dallas, Over/Under 202 with 69 percent of public action on the over
Hollinger Rankings say: Mavericks -5.5
“Averages” say: Mavericks -1
B-Ref says: Raptors have 35% chance of winning outright
Destiny’s Child says: My name
Blake says: I feel pretty confident the Mavericks will take this one, but there are two pretty clear ways to score on Dallas, at least: Get to the restricted area (the Mavericks are the sixth worst team in opponent field goal percentage there) and exploit the corner three (the Mavericks allow an above-average number of attempts from there). It’s not “analytics” really, as much as shots at the rim and corner threes have been hammered home as tenants of that kind of thinking, it’s just a matter of exploiting what Rick Carlisle’s defense allows, and the Mavericks happen to take away the mid-range game more than any other team but the Knicks.
In any case, that’s but one end of the floor and it’s difficult to see the Raptors stopping both Ellis and Nowitzki.
Enjoy the game!