We’re entering the dipping point in the season. It’s that post-Christmas, pre-All Star break hangover where the games don’t seem to mean much. We’re 37 games into the season and at this point have a decent idea where the team stands, who needs to get better, who needs to stay the course, and who the main Conference threats are. The loss against the Magic could be considered a “scheduled loss” following the exhilarating win in Miami. Someone should pull up the stats on how road team fare in the Flordia two-step, my guess is it’s heavily advantageous for the second home team in this little scheduling quagmire.
38 games is what the Premier League (and most European leagues) decide is enough to crown a champion, so if we go by that rationale (bear with me), the Raptors would need the Bucks to lose to the Pistons and we’ll win on goal difference as long as we beat the Bulls tonight. There you have it. I have extracted meaning for this game when all hope was lost.
In terms of player analysis, I am curious as to what the end-game for Fred Van Vleet will be. I’m never quite as comfortable as everyone else when he has the ball, and I see the big three he hit against the Pacers, but for every one of those moments, there appears to be one like against the Blazers where he went 1-on-3 instead of passing it, basically ending our chances in the game. Fred’s transition from a surprise-me NBA player to a legitimate point guard has been fun to watch, and it may sound absurd, but he is, even more than Siakam, the guy that has the most potential to improve from today till the end of this season. There’s a lot in his arsenal that the remainder of the regular season can be used to hone, notably his chemistry with others. He needs to develop something with someone. It’s hard to explain and best I can do is take you back to when Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson used to have a strong one-two, I can’t think of someone who is on that sort of wavelength with Fred, can you?
Naturally, the focus will soon be on what Masai Ujiri can do to improve the team from now till the deadline, and January serves up some matchups that will serve as excellent evaluations of what we have here. To be clear, what we have is great as it is, but is it enough for a title run? Here’s the headline games from January:
January 3 – @ San Antonio
January 5 – @ Milwaukee
January 6 – vs Indiana (B2B 2)
January 16 – @ Boston (B2B 1)
January 23 – @ Indiana (B2B 2)
January 25 – @ Houston
January 31 – @ Milwaukee
Six of the seven “big” games are on the road, and three of them are part of back-to-backs. This right here should be enough to tell us how equipped these Raptors are to come out of the East. IF we get swept by Milwaukee, you’d think some action on the market is mandatory. If we have strong showings in this run, then there’s another level of confidence the Raptors will achieve heading into the All-Star break. It’s also timely that Nick Nurse is now talking about ending the resting on a B2B mandate for Kawhi Leonard. My personal view is that it continue unless it means missing one of these big games
As you might’ve guessed, tonight’s game against the Bulls is nothing but a formality which needs to be checked off before we enter a gruelling January. The lowly Bulls have won 3 out of 4, including beating the Wizards. Probable starters for them are Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. Justin Holiday (yeah, his brother), Kriss Dunn and Zach Lavine. For the Raptors, it doesn’t matter who they put out, they should be winning this at home. However, I’ll also settle for Chris Boucher being recalled again and playing 20 minutes no matter the result.