The Toronto Raptors continue to knock down records and set franchise bests in this, their best ever regular season. They’re doing it so regularly that each new mark seems more random and searched-for than the last. Oh, word, the Raptors have won a record 14 games in a row when a starting shooting guard hits a two with a toe on the line? They’re an NBA-best 18-2 when the team’s first 3-point attempt comes from a player who wore Supreme to the arena? This is the most times the Raptors have outscored an opponent by a Fibonacci number?
There are still two items left to tackle that are a little more straight-forward and standard fare. The first, obviously, is the best record in franchise history, something the Raptors could now back their way into. They’ve already won 51 this year, their second-most ever. They’re going to top 56 without issue. The team’s first 60-win season now seems downright likely when a couple weeks back it seemed like a longshot that hinged on whether players would rest down the stretch.
The other is the longest winning streak in franchise history, something the Raptors can match Friday with a victory over the visiting Dallas Mavericks. Streams are exercises in randomness, and there are better indicators of the Raptors’ dominance – their record, their SRS or advanced metric of choice, the sheer casualness with which they take care of their business – and still, a lengthy winning streak seems like it fits this historic regular season (notable: four of their 18 longest winning streaks in 23 seasons have come this year). The Raptors have won 10 in a row for only the second time ever, one off their best from January of 2016.
Standing in the way is a Mavericks team that was so blatantly tanking that their owner admitted it and got hit with a fine, then accidentally turned it around. Not only did they beat the Raptors on Boxing Day – Toronto’s last loss to a bad team – they’ve won three of four to “fall” to “seventh” in the tanking standings. That’s an organizational directive, but coaches and players don’t tank, and the Raptors got a look a few months back at how a poorly executed (and frigid shooting) game against the Mavericks may go. An 11th in a row is no guarantee, even if Toronto still hasn’t dropped a game to a sub-.500 team at the Air Canada Centre.
The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 4 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Norman Powell is once again listed on the injury report as doubtful, and without the benefit of a shootaround on a back-to-back, there’s been no update to his status. Considering he was in a walking boot yesterday, it would seem this is more of a week-to-week thing than a day-to-day thing. Speaking of week-to-week ankle injuries, OG Anunoby is no longer on the injury report. Of course, that was the case Thursday, too, and he didn’t play. Dwane Casey’s availability is delayed tonight due to a closed walkthrough, so we won’t have a firm update on the plans for Anunoby moving forward. Malcolm Miller has played well filling in, but the team figures to get Anunoby reacclimated in his starting role sooner than later.
Here’s a look at how the four primary starters have done with different fifths, though it’s worth keeping in mind that some of these looks have either come in late-game scenarios (the point guards) or a bunch of tiny samples added together (Miles):
UPDATE: Casey said that Anunoby was available Thursday, he just opted not to use him because of the difficult Oladipo matchup and because Miller was playing well. He also said that the break may have been good for Anunoby, as he’s looked fresh in practice. He wouldn’t tip his hand on starters yet, though.
Also, I saw Powell out of a walking boot before the game. It might be an in-and-out thing for workouts and treatment, but he’d managed to get a good sweat in, at least.
UPDATE II: Kyle Lowry is getting the night off for rest. Powell is out. This is the first game Lowry will sit for rest this year and his fourth missed game overall. It’s also the first time the Raptors are claiming an absence for rest this year.
UPDATE III (so many updates!): Delon Wright and OG Anunoby are starting. This keeps Fred VanVleet in his usual rotations and avoids working Anunoby back in with the bench. Miller figures to take on Wright’s usual 10th-man role, unless the Raptors go super-sized off the bench to get a look at Hayes.
PG: Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Nigel Hayes
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell
905: Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie
Dallas got their updates out of the way early on Friday, ruling Salah Mejri out with a hamstring injury and declaring that J.J. Barea is available despite a rib muscle strain. Normally, I’d say to go ahead and pencil Barea in as your Gerald Henderson Award winner, but this is a team that employs Doug McDermott. Ever wonder where Henderson is these days? McDermott absorbed his Raptor-killer spirit in a Monstars-level event. To wit, McDermott has averaged 12 points in 10 career games against the Raptors, second among all teams, and he’s done it on 62.8-percent true-shooting (third). Two of his three best games by Game Score have also come against Toronto. He’s already got eight points and the game hasn’t started.
The Mavericks are also without Seth Curry and Wesley Matthews for the remainder of the year, which has meant some new rotation wrinkles for Rick Carlisle. Most recently, that meant starting Dorian Finney-Smith, a player who appeared poised for a breakout sophomore season before injuries befell him. The projected starters have played nine minutes together over two games, posting ludicrous marks on both ends (74.6 offensive rating, 70.9 defensive rating). Dallas’ most commonly used lineup available here is a hybrid Ferrell-Bara-McDermott-Powell-Nowitzki look that owns a plus-24 net rating in 84 minutes.
Also, Dirk! This might be his last visit to Toronto. Appreciate it.
UPDATE: Finney-Smith is still starting but sliding a position, with Dwight Powell starting in place of Yogi Ferrell.
PG: Dennis Smith Jr., J.J. Barea
SG: Harrison Barnes, Yogi Ferrell, Kyle Collinsworth
SF: Dorian Finney-Smith, Doug McDermott, Jalen Jones
PF: Dwight Powell, Jameel Warney, Maxi Kleber
C: Dirk Nowitzki, Nerlens Noel
OUT: Salah Mejri, Seth Curry, Wesley Matthews
Texas: Jonathan Motley
- The Raptors made the second 10-day contract for Nigel Hayes official.
- Raptors 905 are out west for a four-game trip that will set up their playoff bracket (their magic number is down to one). Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Malachi Richardson are on the trip. We’ll have a late-night recap of tonight’s game, which tips off at 10.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about the tough 15th-man decision the Raptors face sometime around March 25.
- I also wrote about Nigel Hayes’ weird experience drawing a G League assignment while on a 10-day deal and switching sides in a rivalry in the process.
- Over at Vice, I wrote about Carl English’s basketball origin story and what he’s trying to do for basketball in Newfoundland. (I know it’s not Raptors, but it’s CanBall, so deal.)
- New Raptor and good guy Nigel Hayes appears to have given away a pair of tickets to tonight’s game:
If anyone knows of a local Toronto kid who could use a fun time with his or her family/friends at the @Raptors game tonight, please let me know.
— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) March 16, 2018
The Raptors are 11-point favorites with a 211 over-under. Even at home, that’s a big line for a team on the second night of a back-to-back with a rest disadvantage. Update: The line dropped to Raptors -10.5 with the Lowry news. Clearly not a lot of concern here.