Things we’ve learned in the 2 games since my last pre-game report:
1. I could not have been more wrong about the Raptors being a team that doesn’t take lesser opponents lightly and pay the price for it.
2. I apparently have the ability to negatively sway the outcome of games with my overconfident predictions. Pagan sports gods be damned.
3. Nobody knows what to suspect when this Raptors team takes the court. They can seemingly beat or lose to any team in the league on any given night.
Toronto Raptors -1.5 vs. Dallas Mavericks
Fans will get to embrace the return of 3 former Raptors in Jose Calderon (uproarious round of applause), Shawn Marion (oh yeah, he played here) and Vince Carter (he who shall not be named).
Jose Calderon has been a perfect fit thus far in the lone star state. Rick Carlisle has been making a concerted effort to utilize Jose Calderon’s 3-point shooting mastery with set plays and high screens designed specifically for him. 42 games in to the season and at 235 3PA, Calderon has already almost eclipsed his previous career high of 283 3PA for an entire season. Those extra shots are going in at a 45% rate (4th best in the league for players with at least 100 attempts), as Toronto fans may bitterly remember from the Raptors December 20 overtime win when Calderon went 7 for 10 from deep.
Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki are mind bogglingly close to both putting up 50-40-90 club numbers this season, with Calderon currently at 46%FG-45%3P-89%FT and Dirk at 48%FG-39%3P-90%FT. That’s insane. The rest of the team aren’t exactly brick layers either, as the team as a whole is hovering around the 50-40-80 mark with 47%FG-37%3P-79%FT shooting splits. This Mavericks team might not be a top tier title contender, but they’ve got some historically great shooting at their disposal.
It’s a good thing for the Mavericks sake that they’ve been unconscious from the floor, because their defensive efficiency comes in at 21st in the league, giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions. Free throw disparity has been a consistent thorn in the Mavericks side as well, as the Mavericks are taking the 4th least free throws per FGA in the league while giving up the 3rd most free throws per FGA on defense. That’s what happens when you play Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki together without any kind of rim protection. Dirk is actually the best rim protector the Mavs have this year, according to NBA.com/stats, a devastating condemnation of a Mavericks frontcourt rotation that is giving up between 52 and 59% shooting to opponents at the rim. The fact that there are 9 teams worse defensively than the Mavericks is more of a credit to Carlisle’s coaching and this groups team mentality guarding the pick and roll.
The Raptors have endured a big, 2 embarrassing home loss-sized slice of reality in the last week to hopefully bring their focus back where it needs to be. The Raptors showed in both losses against the Lakers and HorBobnetcats how bad they can be when they’re checked out, and how impressive they can be when they’re locked in on defense, scoring in transition and cycling the ball for open 3s and shots at the rim. Valanciunas continues to be a force when he’s involved in the game on offense, and less enthused and probably on Casey’s bench come the 4th quarter when he isn’t. He’s 21 years old and has spent most of the last 2 years being largely ignored by his teammates after getting his standard two first quarter post touches, so I’m not going to blame the guy. But he’s got the same mismatch he exploited for 18 points and 13 rebounds in 34 minutes in the December 20 game, so it would be awfully nice to see an engaged and properly utilized Jonas in this one.
The game plan for the Raps in this one should be simple. Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will both enjoy considerable offensive advantages. Jonas with his size in the post and Johnson with Nowitzki likely wanting nothing to do with the strength and aggression that Amir hits the offensive glass with. In lineups with a Monta-Calderon backcourt, the Raptors will need to exploit DeRozan or Ross’s notable size mismatch. Dallas’ need to double team or help towards DeRozan when guarded by the smaller Mavs guards led to an impressive and uncommon 9 assists from DeMar in the last meeting.
Toronto will need to take care of the ball as well, as the crafty Calderon and slippery quick Ellis both make up for their defensive deficiencies by creating an abundance of turnovers while giving up very few of their own.
You can rest assured that a Mavericks team who plays very poorly on defense and who shoots very well on offense is going to show up to play tonight. You can also rest assured that I have absolutely no idea what Toronto team is going to show up to play tonight. This game is well within their grasp to win though, and given the matchup, very likely to be a fun one to watch. Toronto -1.5 and o/u of 203.5, I’ll take Toronto and the over in a bounce back win for the Dino’s in which, more importantly than anything else, the fans get pizza.