Ho hum, the Toronto Raptors are on another winning streak. After dropping back-to-back games for just the third time all year, the Raptors have strung together four wins in a row to push their record to 16-3 in their last 19 and a franchise-best 27-10 over the entire season. The wins haven’t been perfect, although Friday’s against the Milwaukee Bucks – their second against their playoff foe in a week – was as close as it comes.
Things are getting more difficult soon, and this is a big week for the Raptors in terms of public consciousness and internal measurement. They’ll host a quality Miami Heat team (the second night of a back-to-back for Toronto), then the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors later in the week. Those are all home games, presenting a massive opportunity to make a statement that the damage the Raptors have done against the league’s lower half and the growth they’ve shown this year can be meaningful against the league’s elite.
Before they get to that, they need to wrap up this three-game road-trip with a visit to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. These two sides met less than a month ago, with the Raptors blowing Brooklyn out in Toronto. The Nets have played better of late and employ a style that can make them an annoying out on their best nights. You’ve heard it plenty by now, but it’s incumbent on the Raptors to not look past Brooklyn on their own court because bigger opponents are coming later in the week.
DeMarre CarrollJames Herbert Revenge Game! And it tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.
Blake Murphy: The Raptors beating the Nets on Dec. 15, the time we last chatted, was the second game of a four-game losing streak for Brooklyn. They’ve turned it around a bit since, going 4-4 with back-to-back wins before Saturday’s narrow loss to Boston. What’s changed for the Nets in the last few weeks to get things back on course?
Anthony Puccio: All the attention has been on the offense, but Brooklyn’s defense in the last five games or so has been the real difference maker. They’ve held three of the last five opponents under 100 points, going 2-1 in those games and 10-1 in games this season when doing so.
Blake Murphy: When we last talked, you raved about the fit DeMarre Carroll has proven to be. It was nice to catch up with him a bit in Toronto, too, where he spoke highly of the city, took ownership of his own performance here, and seemed genuinely excited about the Nets’ situation. With no back-to-back for Brooklyn here, it seems likely he’ll play. Are we in for The DeMarre Carroll Revenge Game?
Anthony Puccio: He was assisted off the court with an apparent knee injury following the last play in the Nets-Celtics game. So, no DC Revenge game, and hopefully it’s nothing too serious. He’s playing some of the best ball of his career.
Blake Murphy: The Nets shoot a larger portion of their shots from beyond the arc than all but two other teams despite ranking 25th in 3-point percentage. This is tenable while they’re still building, developing, and learning who is and isn’t a shooter. As they round into a team focused more on winning in the coming years, what is the extent to which Kenny Atkinson will let that high-volume/low-percentage setup stay in tact? The Raptors are kind of trying to figure out the same thing right now.
Anthony Puccio: Kenny Atkinson is going to keep going with this system until the day he retires. When he’s asked if they settled too much or anything of that nature, he’ll usually respond with, “We didn’t take enough.” That’s his approach. They may be 25th in the league, but that’s because they don’t exactly have that many 3-point shooters. Once the Nets get a little more firepower on this team then I think you’ll see his D’Antoni-like method pay off.
Blake Murphy: Can we start the Spencer Dinwiddie For Most Improved Player campaign yet? (I know it’s going to be Victor Oladipo, but man, Dinwiddie’s slow-grind rise over the last few years has been really fun to watch. Such a smart player, and by all accounts a very good dude.)
Anthony Puccio: I’ve been saying this for a little bit now! I mean, I know the Nets are nine games below .500, but isn’t Spencer Dinwiddie like the MIP award in a nutshell? From the G-League to starting for the Nets, ranking first in assist-to-turnover ratio and keeping the team somewhat afloat during an injury-ridden season. Great story. Good ballplayer. Genuine person.
Blake Murphy: Brooklyn is four games out of a playoff spot. Obviously, they should be sellers if the right deal comes along, but there’s no incentive to tank games outside of that. Where do you put the odds of the unlikely playoff berth? A small part of me wants F*** Brooklyn II.
Anthony Puccio: I really can’t see it. I think they can stick around this area and make for fun basketball down the stretch – at least more fun than anyone anticipated. But their main priority is development, and they aren’t going to shift – or rush – the plan to make a playoff run.
It’s pretty clear what Dwane Casey has settled on right now with his entire roster healthy. The rotation is down to 10, with two players on the fringes who will be called on for spot duty as needed. One of those players – Lucas Nogueira – made a strong impression in his opportunity Friday and could factor back into a three-man center rotation if Casey wants to keep him involved. The other – Norman Powell – continues to struggle, unable to turn garbage time minutes or spot minutes in unfavorable situations into much meaningful positive momentum. There will be a time for Powell again at some point, it’s just hard to figure exactly when.
As a big of an update, the starters now own a plus-16.4 net rating in 345 minutes together. That’s the seventh-most minutes of any fivesome and is the seventh-best net rating of any group to play at least 100 minutes (it’s fifth with a minimum of 200 minutes). Because the Raptors have tinkered lineups and dealt with minor injuries, the only other lineup with more than 60 minutes together is the starters with Powell (woof), and even the current all-bench unit is only up to 35 minutes (-7.9).
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
905: Bruno Caboclo, Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown
As Anthony noted in our exchange, DeMarre Carroll went down late in Saturday’s game against Boston and really looked to be in a bad way. The Nets have not updated his general medical status yet other than to rule him out for Monday’s game. That makes it two meetings between the sides that Carroll will have missed. Here’s hoping he’s not out long, as his resurgence has been fun to follow.
Elsewhere on the Nets injury report, Caris LeVert is being called probable despite a groin injury, and D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin remain on the shelf. LeVert would probably stand to start if he can go. He started last time the sides met (along with Joe Harris), as both Carroll and Allen Crabbe sat. Crabbe is now healthy, and since the last Toronto meeting, Nik Stauskas is a firm part of the wing rotation, too (he’s also shooting 50 percent on threes with the Nets).
If LeVery plays, the Nets at least have one lineup that’s played 50 minutes together, a Stauskas-LeVert-Harris-Quincy Acy-Jarrett Allen bench group (+13.9 net rating) that should be a fun matchup for the Raptors’ bench. The projected starters have been roasted in 10 minutes together.
PG: Spencer Dinwiddie, Milton Doyle
SG: Allen Crabbe, Nik Stauskas
SF: Caris LeVert, Joe Harris
PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Quincy Acy
C: Tyler Zeller, Jahlil Okafor, Jarrett Allen, Timofey Mozgov
OUT: D’Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin, DeMarre Carroll
Long Island: Jacob Wiley, Isaiah Whitehead
The Raptors are 7.5-point favorites here. They were 11-point favorites at home a few weeks back, so while the Nets have extra pieces back since, the Raptors’ own pieces and recent play muted the home-to-home swing. The over-under sits at 218.