It’s Drake Night, ladies and gentlemen, and I can’t get it off, even with the promise of a 5,000-word reflection on the event for someone to cover my shift. Alas, I’ll beg on twitter for someone to cop me an OVO Raptors shirt (it worked for the DeMar DeRozan bobblehead) and follow along with all that golden snark on twitter.

But should we be snarky? Well, yeah, probably. Having Drake/OVO Night at a Raptors game, complete with t-shirts that hint at the possible re-branding and with a halftime DJ performance by Future the Prince, is kind of silly. In fact, my original plan was to do a campy post yesterday tying Drake lyrics to each Raptor, but this proved difficult and unfunny (and we got treated to a guest post from the homie Steven LeBron) – I encourage people to try in the comments, but beyond a few obvious ones, you have to get really creative or really shoehorn lyrics to fit the players. It’s easy to do at the team level, of course, and Nothing Was The Same is a terrific tag line for the entire 2013-14 season so far. So yeah, joke away.

But while I joke and write about it in jest, a 27-year-old guy who watches every Raptors game, no matter what, probably isn’t the target demographic for the event. In fact, while the 25-45 male demographic is huge for television ratings, a low-income, 27-year-old male who is already consuming your product to the fullest probably isn’t the target for much marketing at all.

Drake Night isn’t about me, or people like me. The Raptors have filled 90.1 percent of seats this season (17th in the NBA), and Drake Night is about hooking in that extra 10 percent while building the brand into something that is “cool” long-term. I use dick-finger quotes around cool because they probably wouldn’t admit as much, but the vaguely defined Global Ambassadorship role that Drake has assumed with the Raptors is primarily about raising the franchise’s Q-rating. When they were new, they were cool (and so was Jurassic Park). Vince made the team cool for a few great years. But for a decade now, they’ve been just another team and just another loser in a city full of them (#ThrowTheToast).

The point of Drake Night is to sell a few extra tickets and pop some additional media coverage, yes. But it’s more about reaching new or borderline fans, making the Raptors seem like a big deal and, hopefully, improving the atmosphere in the Air Canada Centre, something one would hope would carry over to future home games. You might look at the event, or Drake’s entire ambassadorship, and think “why the hell would I care if Drake is aligned with the team?”

Well, this tweet got over 7,000 retweets from Drake’s 13.8 million followers, and he’s one of the biggest music stars in the game right now, Canada or otherwise. Maybe he doesn’t move the needle for fans who already care enough to visit a site like Raptors Republic, but some people care.

(There’s also the idea that Drake can help recruit and retain talent in Toronto, but that’s a far more hypothetical conversation [hey, Eric Bledsoe did post a photo of them together] for another time.)

Tonight is about testing the waters on how far the franchise can push the Drake relationship and what kind of non-fiscal return they can expect from it. It’s about getting a few extra eyes on a team that’s playing some really good basketball right now, and it’s about having a little bit of fun with an early-January game.

So enjoy it. You only live once, after all.

(Aside: A friend messaged me with “Drake hater” after this went up. I like Drake, seems like a chill bro, really looking forward to him on SNL next week. I love his music. I just mean that Drake Night doesn’t move the needle for me as a Raptors fan.

By the way, I’ve seen Drake in concert twice, and the two occasions mirror the 2013-14 Raptors somewhat. First, at a Lil’ Wayne and T-Pain concert at the ACC in January 2009, Drake made a cameo appearance and the crowd didn’t really react much. I don’t even think So Far Gone had come out yet, so he was still pretty unknown. Just a few months later, I saw Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy at Molson Amphitheatre, and Drake had just been pulled off the tour with a torn ACL. He made a surprise cameo and the place went bonkers. Just seven months later, the kid-who-seemed-talented-but-maybe-I’m-just-a-homer-pulling-for-a-Toronto-rapper had blown up. Just like our little this-turnaround-seems-real-but-maybe-I’m-a-dumb-Raptors-fan stretch is extending longer than many anticipated. Now THAT’S how you shoehorn Drake in with the Raptors.)

There’s basketball to talk about, too!

Now, if this had been my pre-game duty, we’d have had a nice back-and-forth with a Nets blogger, broken things down by position and done the usual spiel. But I’m tagging in on short notice, because someone (not naming names) can’t handle their alcohol in their old age (or has sick kids, or, y’kno, life came up, but far be it for me to not throw shade on him for this).

Instead, we’ll keep it high-level. The Brooklyn Nets are in town, coming off one hell of a home game against the Miami Heat on Friday night. The Nets won in double overtime, thanks in part to LeBron James fouling out with 36 seconds left in the first extra frame and in part to Shaun Livingston playing out of his mind for 51 minutes. Seriously, if you loved Shaun Livingston coming up and had high hopes for him, go back and watch last night’s game – 19-11-5 with three blocks in 51 minutes, and he dunked.

The Nets have now won five straight despite losing Brook Lopez for the season and being without Deron Williams the past three games. When you factor in the fatigue of travelling after a double-overtime game and the fact that neither Lopez nor Williams will suit up tonight, you have to like the Raptors chances, winning streak be damned.

And the game is kind of important, I guess. I mean, it’s January, after all, but the Nets are now just three games back of Toronto at 15-21 (the Raptors are 17-17) and with the Knicks suddenly looking alive (what gives, Miami?), the Atlantic Division may not be as foregone a conclusion as we thought a week or two ago.

The Nets recent surge hasn’t been enough to move the needle much on their season-long metrics, as they remain 23rd in Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating and 21st in Hollinger’s Power Ranking, which weighs recent performance more heavily. They do have better than 50-50 playoff odds, however, if you believe such simulations.

As such, the Hollinger’s favor the Raptors by 12 points while Vegas is more conservative with a 9.5-point spread (190 over/under). As confident as I am that the Raptors’ stretch of strong play will continue, it’s tough to predict a double-digit victory against a team with five straight wins, even if the deck is rather stacked against them.

Will Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry be slow and tired? Probably. Will they be complaining about the loud music and how back in their day, hip hop was about the message? Definitely. Is there enough talent on this team to suck the air out of the ACC at the end of a fun night? I sure hope not. They did it with a 102-100 heartbreaker when Rudy Gay was still in town, but NOTHING IS THE SAME. (Damn, I really should have worked in a bunch of Drake references all article. I have failed.)

Anyway, I’m putting the Raptors down for a W, and while I think the Nets could come out lethargic, the 9.5-point spread feels like a trap, so I’d just avoid it altogether. I’d give a slight edge to the over.

And I’d put all the money on the ACC atmosphere being a lot of fun tonight. If you’re going to the game, enjoy yourself, please grab me an extra t-shirt, and let us know about your experience in the comments of this post or the quick react and post-game.

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  • Maniacal

    Aren’t there decency laws preventing the use of such low res imagery?

    Good read though! Go Raptors!

    • BlakeMurphy

      haha, the only pic of it I could find was on Amir’s Instagram, best I could do.

  • DDayLewis

    Leave the RAP x RAPTORS crossovers to me, Blake. Everyone loved my 2pat/2pac puns.

    (actually, quick behind the curtain moment here, Blake asked me for Drake/Raptors jokes and all I could come up with were four really shitty jokes. I guess my reign as the Top Pun of RR is OVER, but it’s far from over)

    • DDayLewis

      Oh, and if any kind soul could hook a brother up with a OVO shirt, let me know on twitter. I’m @william_lou

    • BlakeMurphy

      I got about halfway through the team and realized they weren’t all that funny/clever. You gave a few, another buddy gave a couple ideas at the team-level. Maybe something for another day, after I “find” some inspiration and give his catalog some spin.

  • Greg Ast

    You have to believe the Nets are going to be relaxed after a super BIG win last night and there may have been an extra beer of two demolished on the plane ride over to T-dot as a result.
    Paul Pierce is not Paul Pierce anymore – DDR should school him tonight and without D Williams, Kyle should have an all-star game. Amir and JV should make KG FEEL THE PAIN of their hard bodies. Let 2Pat with some help from JFish and Landry cover the perimeter – JJohn and JTerry (is he really still in the league?)
    This game will show the mettle of the Raptors. Now is the time to beat these dudes. Step on their ugly wrinkled necks and don’t ease up until an hour after the game’s over.

  • ckh26

    Statement game tonite.
    Kick the Nets collective *sse’s back to Brooklyn and there will be a new sherrif on the block.
    Raptors by 8.

    • ckh26

      OK so by 16.

  • robertparrish00

    Which Nets nickname shirt reads Past their Prime?

  • Louvens Remy

    It ain’t OVO til its OVO. I only have OVO puns.

  • john

    At what point do you say enough is enough and bring back Buycks as our first pg off the bench?

    • As much of a fan that I’m of Vaz I think he might as well pack his bag, this coach has ZERO confidence on him, I know he is still a bit hurt but the mistakes he is making are D-league type.
      All I can think of is that this guy doesn’t not want to play off the bench and he is tanking to get out of there.
      This guy is not this bad, I’ve been watching him for 8 years since his Terps days this is the worse by far I’ve seen him.
      As of yesterday I would of been defending the guy but after this disaster vs the Nets that he actually torched with 12 assist and 17 points a month ago with the Kings, there is no defending this need a PG that can give Lowry a rest of you going to burn him out in soon.
      The guy is out I’m sure…I got a feeling he rather start in a bad team because next year is a contract year,,

    • JayTeam

      At no point?

      • john

        Buycks has a higher PER than Vasquez for the Raps this year, however in far fewer minutes. I suspect that with more minutes Buycks would set himself further apart stats wise. Buycks defends better, is quicker, not a bad shooter either, and most importantly I don’t find myself begging for someone to hit him with a 2×4 20 times a game as I do with Vasquez.

        • Tanks-a-lot

          Jim Duggan style

          Greasy BLOWS MY MIND with his inability to bring the ball up the court consistently. Then, when he does get into the half-court set, he is just looking for pass backs for his shot alone.

          I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but GAWD DAMN

          • I’ve watched the guy for years I have no idea what the hell is wrong with him, I thought he was still hurt but he is playing like a bum …I think he may be tanking to get to a bad team and start … all I can think of /believe me this guy is not this bad

            • Tanks-a-lot

              I hope he settles in. I only care that he has very low TOs in the role he is in.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      When Greasy is traded, and if Masai doesn’t bring another PG back.

      Buycks is good for now playing regularly.

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  • saud

    Im surprised you did not use a “started from the bottom now we here” reference from drakes song.

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