The Back Story (The teams split the season series last season 1-1):
|12/09/12||Los Angeles||Clippers 102, Raptors 83||Recap||Box|
|02/01/13||Toronto||Raptors 98, Clippers 73||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The last time the Clippers played the Raptors was last February in Toronto and it was probably the worst game of the season for the Clippers. They've managed to avoid any real letdown games since losing Chris Paul -- perhaps they know that they have to always play their hardest without their leader. Certainly the loss to Charlotte on Wednesday was disappointing, but the Clippers didn't play poorly so much as shoot poorly. (I'm not suggesting they played really well, but on the continuum, they weren't terrible at any thing other than making shots.) The Clippers followed up a 6-26 performance beyond the arc in Charlotte by making 10 of their first 11 in Chicago. So which of these two sets of shooters will show up in Canada? Or might we see a team that takes a reasonable number of threes, and makes a reasonable percentage? Is that too much to ask? Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have each been on their own tears, with Jordan rebounding like a madman and Griffin doing a whole slew of good stuff, starting with scoring really efficiently. If J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford can continue to shoot well in support of the bigs, the Clippers should be fine in this game, even against a decent Toronto team.
Anyone who can figure the Raptors out, let me know. I have no clue. Actually, like the Bulls who went on a winning streak after the team made a blatant salary dump move to get rid of Luol Deng, Toronto has played their best ball after they seemingly wrote off this season and began focusing on the future more. The Raptors traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay to get his long term deal off the books, with the extra benefit being that Canadian-born Andrew Wiggins would be an incredibly valuable asset to them if they could somehow get him in the draft. Gay played his last game for the Raptors on December 6, as they fell to 6-12. They are 16-8 since, including wins over the Spurs and Pacers and on the road in Oklahoma City and Dallas. They've cooled off some recently, at just 3-3 in their last six with disquieting losses to the Celtics and Lakers making the mark look even worse. Kyle Lowry has been great, and DeMar DeRozan is averaging over 20 points per game, but it just doesn't feel like a particularly good team, despite some good recent success.
- Comparison of key metrics. Other than Indiana of course, Toronto is the only team on this trip whose numbers don't look much, much worse upon closer inspection. Playing in the Eastern Conference, the "hanging around .500" and fringe playoff teams like the Bobcats and the Bulls manage to get some wins, but their underlying fundamentals look terrible. The Raptors on the other hand actually score more points than they allow per 100 possessions -- by 3.4 points! Toronto even has a 7-8 record against the West. The numbers say these guys are pretty good, though I'm not completely sure how that is the case.
- Name change? NBA Name changes are all the vogue right now. The Hornets are the Pelicans, the Bobcats are going to be the Hornets. The Raptors apparently toyed with the idea of changing there misleading, dated team name last year. But so far, nothing. I did my part with several suggestions last June.
- Bench by Sacto. Less than a year after gambling on Rudy Gay in a blockbuster trade with Memphis, the Raptors gave up on Rudy Gay and sent him to Sacramento in a deal that seems to have helped both teams, at least for now. What did the Raptors get in return? Well, looking at the box score from their win in Philadelphia last night, the got their entire bench. Four Raptors appeared in the Philly game off the bench: John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, all received back in the Gay trade.
- Collison? Darren Collison strained his big toe last week in Indiana and has been hurting since. Doc Rivers hinted at holding Collison out of the Chicago game, but he played and played well. He scored 17 points and carried the Clippers for a critical stretch in the third quarter with 10 straight. Does that mean the toe is all better? Will it be problematic on the second night of a back to back? Regardless, it doesn't seem like Collison is holding back -- he wants to play and help the team (and prove his worth) while he has the chance.
- A Green sighting. The Willie Green as Starter experiment that worked so well for Vinny Del Negro in the regular season last year was a miserable failure for Doc Rivers this year when J.J. Redick went down. Green dropped out of sight for a while then, but to begin the fourth quarter in Chicago, there was Green in the back court with Jamal Crawford, while Collison and Redick rested. Willie proceeded to hit two quick buckets to semi-ice the game early in the fourth as he put the Clippers up 18. With Darius Morris nearing the end of his second 10-day contract and therefore not long for this team, Doc seemed to be looking for alternatives, and if Willie can start hitting some shots, he just might be one.
- Hedo coming on? Man, it's so tempting to overanalyze ever move Hedo Turkoglu makes in his return to the court after almost a year out of the NBA, and that's probably a mistake. Having said that, did he actually look pretty good in Chicago, or was that my imagination? He made a three, he put the ball on the floor and drove to the basket, and he threw an alley oop to DeAndre Jordan to open the fourth quarter that had to be demoralizing to the Bulls (Thibs was still up on the ESPN screen being interviewed about playing better defense as Jordan was shaking the backboard.) Is it possible he's actually going to be useful?
- Home in sight. Not to overlook Milwaukee, but the Bucks are the worst team in the NBA by any reasonable measure. The Clippers have the Raptors tonight and the Bucks on Monday, and then the Grammy trip will be over as they head back to L.A. for a Wednesday meeting with the Wizards. Take care of business north of the border and a 5-2 road trip is in their grasp.
- Back-to-backs. The Clippers are on a tough back-to-back (it's a relatively short flight from Chicago, but they'll have to clear customs, and with the time zone back to the East, they'll tip an hour earlier in Toronto than they did in Chicago). Having said that, the Raps were in Philly last night, so it's close to a wash.
- Griffin. Does Toronto have anyone who can handle Blake Griffin? I mean, the new Blake Griffin? Certainly not Jonas Valanciunas, who is long but rail thin and very green. Griffin would chew him up and spit him out. Amir Johnson will work hard and has some assets, but is undersized at the four. As it happens, they do have someone who can handle him, or at any rate someone who has handled him in the past. No one I can think of has defended Griffin more consistently well over the years than Chuck Hayes -- though he rarely got the chance in Sacto. The new Griffin is no doubt too much even for the Hayes kryptonite.
- All Star backcourt? The Raptors have the third best record in the Eastern Conference and will almost certainly be rewarded with a reserve spot in the All Star Game. And in the East, sure, why not? Neither Kyle Lowry nor DeMar DeRozan would stand a chance to make the West squad but someone's got to make the East team. I'm not really clear why DeRozan's name keeps coming up -- I mean, I don't think the coaches are going to feel compelled to put two Raptors on the team. The three each from the Heat and Pacers and Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving taking spots, you have one spot each for the four mediocre teams: Chicago (Joakim Noah), Washington (John Wall), Atlanta (Paul Millsap) and Toronto (Lowry). Lowry's been their best player by far, with a .578 true shooting percentage compared to .514 for DeRozan. And no, the Raptor's don't get two All Stars -- not even in the East. Maybe if there was a Team Canada in the game.
- Connections. The newest Clipper, Hedo Turkoglu, played one season in Toronto in 2009-2010. It was a disaster, as the Raptors gave him a too big a contract, and it seemed to weigh him down. He was traded to Phoenix and thence back to Orlando, and he was still getting paid under that contract he signed with the Raptors until the Magic cut him (saving the last, unguaranteed dollars) last month. Steve Novak is a former Clipper. Novak arrived in Toronto in the deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to New York, but hasn't gotten much burn lately.
- Get the Toronto perspective at Raptors HQ.
- Shakespearean reference:
Taming of the Shrew -- Act IV, Scene 1 -- Petruchio
Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And 'tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty.
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg'd,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come, and know her keeper's call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat, and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not;
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I'll find about the making of the bed;
And here I'll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets;
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her-
And, in conclusion, she shall watch all night;
And if she chance to nod I'll rail and brawl
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; 'tis charity to show.
The word raptor means a bird of prey; the velociraptor is a dinosaur named for such hunting birds, whose name is sometimes shortened to raptor. But to use it's original meaning, we might think of a falcon.