Pre-Game

Gameday: Nets @ Raptors, Dec. 20

Where: Air Canada Centre | When: 7:30 Tip | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: Fan 590 | Vegas Line: Raps are -15.5 favourites as of Tuesday morning

First off, let’s reminisce for a bit:

No matter how subjective the topic may be, attempting to rank this franchise’s most memorable moments would be an interesting (and lengthy) debate. Recency bias can be a powerful influence, but when it comes down to it, it really does depend on when you decided to go “all in” as a fan.

If your history with the Raptors dates back far enough, your short list would likely include:

1. The height of “Vinsanity” — Where the Slam Dunk Contest of 2000 and the now-infamous 2001 Playoff series with Philly helped pave the way to where this team currently sits. Not to mention the frustration that followed/still lingers over not getting the chance to see what a Vince Carter-Tracy McGrady duo could accomplish together over an extended period of time.

2. The optimism/ultimate disappointment that came (and went) under the leadership of Chris Bosh and Andrea “Baby Dirk” Bargnani.

3. To sneak in a personal favourite: I still bask in the glory that two members of Michigan’s Fab 5 (a team that’s part of my Basketball Mount Rushmore) actually suited up for this city. To the younger generation (if you’re out there): Bonus points if anyone can name the player not named Jalen Rose — without Googling it!

4. To take it back to the very beginning: The pre-ACC days of Damon Stoudamire putting on a show at the Sky Dome. Who knew T.O. was getting a sneak preview of Kyle Lowry way back then; the southpaw version, if you will.

5. Take your pick of draft day blunders: A) Rafael Araujo over Andre Iguodala. B) Joey Graham over Danny Granger. C) Bargnani over LaMarcus Aldridge. Hell, while we’re at it, what’s a trip down memory lane without mentioning the likes of Yogi Stewart, Pape Sow, Jamario Moon, Michael Pietrus and Charlie Villanueva. Bottom Line: Naming low-impact Raptors can make for a quality drinking game. Alright, Charlie V and Jamario did have their moments. Moving on…

The following list would stand out to any fan of any timeline, but if your fandom is still relatively new, chances are your selective memory consists of:

1. The series sweep: Better known as the uninspiring effort vs. the Wizards and stark reminder that this team had a ways to go.

2. A) Norman Powell’s fast break dunk that essentially sealed the 1st-round series against Indiana. B) Game 7 of Round 2: Even though it wasn’t breaking news among this fan base, blowing out Miami in such a pivotal situation forced the masses to officially recognize this team as one of the league’s elite.

3. The moment immediately after the Raps tied the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece. The final outcome of that series may have left a bitter taste, but the vibe in this city after that home-court response was absolutely electric.

4. The Rudy Gay Trade: When the deal was first announced, “salary dump” and “preparing for a rebuild” were the thoughts of many. Little did we know that it would immediately send this franchise in the direction it was searching for years ahead of time. Even Masai Ujiri has to admit that his legacy was fast forwarded by default. Still, when you consider Greivis Vasquez eventually turned into Norman Powell, Masai quickly followed up his luck by proving his worth. 

5. Toronto vs. Brooklyn (2014): The Gay trade was the catalyst that got them there, but the beauty of that playoff series was that expectations were nonexistent. After 5 straight losing seasons, just being invited to the party was enough. However, and most importantly: the fact that the Raps went the distance and ended up being a Kyle Lowry floater away from advancing was the perfect storm that made this fan base whole again. It was a moment in time that not only opened the door for new-found fans, but also rejuvenated the ones who spent year after year in a miserable state of mind.

The moral of the story:

1. As much as that series made us hate the Nets, it’s a damn shame Brooklyn has fallen so hard since. I mean, Toronto-Brooklyn had the makings of an annual entertaining rivalry. That 2014 Nets squad had plenty of veterans so a revamping was inevitable, but the difference in direction between these two squads since that series took place is astonishing. The Raps’ 191 regular season games after the fact: 124 wins, 67 losses. Brooklyn’s 190: 66-124.

2. As much as players, coaches and management need to be held accountable for their actions, Brooklyn’s downfall gives us as fans an added appreciation for just how stable an organization the Raptors have become.

Now, on to what’s in store for us this evening:

  • With the Nets on the verge of their own back-to-back with Cleveland and Golden State, I really can’t be mad — but with Brook Lopez ruled out for tonight (rest), the Basketball Gods have a cruel sense of humour. I’ll definitely take the easier road to a victory considering claiming the East’s top seed is a hopeful way to counteract meeting up with Cleveland in the playoffs, but the long run suggests Valanciunas would be better off facing as much resistance an opposing team has to offer; especially when his game, and confidence level are back on the upswing.
  • Could there be a Bismack Biyombo element that can provide a silver lining (entertainment wise)? Well, look no further than former Raptors Luis Scola and Anthony Bennett as the ones who will likely get the nod to attempt to fill the Lopez void. Scola will surely receive a welcoming ovation. As for Bennett, well, let’s just say his service time doesn’t project the same … Neither project to throw a wrench in the Raptors’ gameplan, either.
  • Even though Patterson’s minutes with the starting unit continue to increase, Casey continues to downplay the notion that he’ll be taking over for Pascal Siakam and become the actual starter anytime soon. He offers advantages either way, but the door is opening wider than it has in quite a while. With Trevor Booker’s potential to be a menace on the glass (11.4 per 36 minutes), and disruptive ability on defence (3.0 steals per 100 posessions), all eyes will be on how Casey allocates each of their minutes. Though, there are times throughout the season when experimenting with lineups trumps continuity. And with Lopez out, tonight (at least on paper) provides an opportunity to do just that.
  • Since returning from injury, Jeremy Lin has been hovering around the 20-minute mark. But a weakened frontcourt will inevitably lead to an added emphasis on backcourt contributions. That may not mean he jumps back into the starting lineup, but those minutes should venture towards 30. He’s been both erratic and effective throughout his multiple-stop NBA journey, but if his 8-game sample size in a Nets’ uniform with career highs in points, FG%, threes per game and rebounds is any indication, the latter will likely be the one that shows up.
  • Brooklyn could also use this opportunity to mesh Lin and Sean Kilpatrick together. There’s plenty of pundits out there suggesting Kilpatrick’s early season rise will start to see its demise with Lin back in the picture, but why shut the door on what the two could grow into? Besides, any player who goes from being an undrafted D-Leaguer (Philly’s Delaware 87ers) to owning his team’s highest offensive rating (105.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor compared to 96.2 points while he’s on the bench), just might be part of your future core. Shoutout to NetsDaily.com.

Closing Thoughts:

When an inferior matchup goes according to plan, any team can use it as a tune-up of sorts. And the notion that Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll will all be able to take the 4th quarter off is very much in play. There’s also the probability that the defense can carry over Sunday’s second-half momentum, Ross and Valanciunas to continue to sharpening their consistency skills, and for the 905ers to once again play meaningful minutes. (As for Fred VanVleet, Cory Joseph is still listed as questionable as of this morning.)

But with that said, I’m sticking with my particular viewpoint that the Raps still need adversity to present itself in almost every matchup in order to get the job done. On one hand, that’s a reassuring thought; every playoff game will surely have that covered. But if the East crown is the mission, and it should be, their on/off switch needs to become second nature — at least to the point where fluctuating performances from quarter to quarter are fewer and far between.

The Raptors’ resiliency is very real, so let’s enjoy them getting there.

In the meantime, a fitting classic:

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