Gameday: Raptors @ Warriors, Dec. 28

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Continuing their 6-game road trip the Toronto Raptors hit Oracle for a show down of  the NBA’s top ranked offenses and backcourts.

Christmas Day featured three of four 2016 NBA Conference Finalists, the lone exception was the Toronto Raptors (don’t get me started).  Instead, the Raptors had dispersed to celebrate the holiday with family, prior to reconvening December 26th in Portland. Having won the first 2-games of their current 6-game road trip it might be reasonable to assume the Raptors would be content garnering a single victory out of the 4 remaining dates. That is, in any other Raptors season where a .500 west coast trip would be deemed a success. But, this iteration of the Raptors is a different beast.  Specifically, two games remaining (Warriors, Spurs) offer  litmus tests to measure how far the Raptors have come, and more importantly where tweaks are still required.

In the teams first meeting on November 16, the Warriors had the decided advantage, entering the contest well rested, while the Raptors were returning from a close loss in Cleveland. Again tonight, the Warriors will be the more rested squad having been idle since turkey day. Recent history shows the Dubs own an unequivocal advantage over the Raptors, despite the past three meetings having come down to clutch time to determine victors.

Beyond the obvious – top 2 ranked offenses, this game offers plenty of intriguing fodder.

Records to consider:

  • DeMar DeRozan needs 15 points to pass Chris Bosh and become the all-time leading scorer in Raptors franchise history
  • Raptors are on a current franchise best 7 game winning streak on the road
  • Golden State haven’t lost 2 consecutive games in their prior 188 regular season games
  • Warriors are on pace to win 69 games (4 short of last seasons record setting 73-9)
  • Raptors are on pace to surpass last seasons franchise best 56 wins and notch their first 60 win season in history
  • Raptors haven’t won at Oracle Arena since 2004

Story of the Road:

 

In a bit of a segue, let me point out a major factor regarding the Raptors remaining schedule. Although pundits ranked Toronto as having the third easiest schedule, it certainly wasn’t based on the opening third of the season. To wit, this ridiculous road trip which will span over 17,000 kilometers marks the second long western trip, the first occurring in mid November (and began with the Cavaliers-Warriors, back-to-back set).

That said, following the completion of this trip (and first home game immediately after vs Utah) the Raptors will have just 11 games remaining versus the west with only 4 on the road.  Conversely, the Cavaliers have played one (yes you read that correctly) game versus the west on the road. Further, that one game versus Memphis marked the night Ty Lue left all 3 Cavalier stars in Cleveland. So, to this point in the season (and right up to January 8th) LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will not have played a game out west.

Although this offered a major advantage early for the Cavaliers, suffice to say it could take a toll moving forward. To wit, once the Raptors finish the road trip and Jazz game they’ll have 11 games left vs the west with only 3 on the road. Conversely the Cavaliers will have 21 games remaining against the west with 14 on the road!

I bring this up since it points to the relevance of this current road trip and the advantages that can be gained if the Raptors can do damage by stealing a few more wins. And, of course given the Cavaliers current 20% less road winning percent it sure seems to benefit the Raptors in the final portion of the season.

Toronto Raptors vs. Warriors Statistical Comparison:

One look at where the two squads statistically rank in the Association highlights precisely how they have risen to the top of the ladder offensively. Further, it demonstrates areas defensively where each squad has made strides, and conversely where improvements are needed:

Walking Wounded:

Raptors:

  • Terrence Ross– wrist, listed as a game time decision
  • Delon Wright – shoulder, continues his on court rehab. CBS Sports has updated his return date to January 15th, 2017
  • Jared Sullinger – foot, out of the walking boot and rehabbing, CBS Sports updated his return date  to February 1st, 2017

Warriors:

  • No injuries reported

Rotations:

RAPTORS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry
Shooting Guard:DeMar DeRozan
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Power Forward: Pascal Siakam
Center:Jonas Valanciunas

RAPTORS RESERVES:
Point Guard: Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
Shooting Guard:Norman Powell
Small Forward: *Terrence Ross (see injury report), Bruno Caboclo
Power Forward: Patrick Patterson,
Center:*Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_DEtTuK3c0

 

WARRIORS STARTING 5:
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Draymond Green
Center: Zaza Pachulia

WARRIORS RESERVES:
Point Guard:  Shaun Livingston, Patrick McCaw
Shooting Guard: Ian Clark
Small Forward: Andre ‘Iguodala, Kevon Looney
Power Forward:  David West
Center:  JaVale McGee, Anderson Varejao

Notable Match-Ups:

Starting Backcourts: The oft discussed argument wages on regarding the League’s top backcourts with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson unanimously taking the top spot. Many pundits rank Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan right behind them, and given the Blazers and Wizards current rank it’s a fair assessment to place the Raptors duo second.   The addition of Kevin Durant in the off season marked the Dubs creation of a big 4 ‘Super Team’. And, while the Raptors can’t compete with that title, their guards certainly provide All-Star stats.  The following chart punctuates the performance of the Raptors backcourt through the first third of the season. Obvious advantages were expected when comparing DeRozan and Thompson with regards to free throws and three point shooting respectively. But, the true surprise is how much better Lowry is performing from deep than Curry and DeRozan’s overall stat dominance:

Perhaps a more definitive stat which earmarks the adjustment for Steph Curry is his regression from behind the arc. Comparing Curry’s performance to Kyle Lowry in this area punctuates how hot Lowry has been from deep.  Lowry kicked it into a different mindset November 25th:

Caroll vs. Durant: In a true test of how healthy DeMarre Carroll is, he’ll be matched up with lanky sharp shooter Kevin Durant. Let’s see whether DMC can keep Durant invested on both ends.

Reserve Depth: If there were discernible lessons to learn from the Christmas Day game between the Cavaliers and Warriors it’s that beyond Iguodala and Livingston the Warriors bench is lacking. Cleveland utilized just 3 reserves, but out scored the Warriors reserves (who used 7 reserves) 25-13. Should the Raptors starters hold their own with the stars, this is the area of the game where the Raptors could hold a major advantage. For that to occur, Toronto will need big nights on both ends from several (if not all) of Patterson, Joseph, Powell, Ross and Bebe.

Raptors compare beyond offense:

In my recent article Reserves play key role in Raptors success, I looked at 5, 4 and 3 man lineups to show how the bench was becoming the Raptors x-factor. Since that date the stats have been upgraded, but with little change. To that end, a look at the top offensive 5-man lineups (who have played a minimum of 75 minutes together) still shows the Raptors on top with the best two offensive units. The best lineup features the starters with Patterson replacing Siakam, immediately followed by the bench unit of Joseph, Nogueira, Patterson and Ross with Lowry. Both units rank ahead of the re-tooled Warriors death lineup with Durant who rank 5th.  And, although the Dubs death lineup ranks first among these offensive juggernauts defensively, the Raptors rank a close second and third respectively. What pushes them over the edge is the net differential where the Raptors are  +5.6 and +2.6 points ahead of the Warriors best lineup. Food for thought.

Game Specifics:

Recent History:

The Warriors hold the all-time record 25-15, and have owned the Raptors in the Stephen Curry era where they are 12-2. But, as good as Curry and the Warriors have fared against Toronto the past 3 losses have all come down to the wire, with the Dubs winning by an average of 4 points.

 Referee Assignments:

Ed Malloy (#14),  Nick Buchert (#3), and  Gary Zielinski (#59)

Fan Data:

The Venue: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
The Tip: 10:30 PM EST
TV: TSN
Radio: Sportsnet 590 The FAN

The Line:

Either the odds makers have little faith in the Raptors or expect the Warriors to make amends for the Christmas day loss as GSW open as gaudy 9.5 favorites (down a full point since open) with an over-under of 225.5 points.

Closing:

Certainly, it’s fair to assume the backcourts will be dialed in for this match and there are definite areas the Raptors can capitalize on in the front court and via their reserves. How much will Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira’s length play a factor? Can Jonas Valanciunas eat Pachulia and McGee for dinner? And, can the Raptors reserves make the Dubs pay for opting to go the ‘Super Team’ route at the cost of losing their depth? All of these questions are areas which will play a factor in the final score.

Yet, given the Raptors history of losses in Oakland, combined with the Dubs penchant for not losing consecutive games it won’t be deemed a failure if the Raptors lose. That said, we all know Kyle Lowry and company would like to make a statement on this trip, so beating the Warriors would definitely accomplish that goal.  Ultimately, it’s safe to expect the Raptors will fight right to the bitter end. The question is can they play through inevitable whistles that won’t go their way, limit lapses in focus and be dialed in defensively for 48 minutes?  The answer to those questions will determine if the Raptors move to an eighth consecutive road victory and post their first win in Oracle since 2004.

Check back this afternoon for Blake’s pregame news,notes and updates.

 

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