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Clippers vs Raptors: Clash of 28-15 Teams in Toronto

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Fresh off demolishing the Knicks in New York, the Clippers continue their Eastern Conference road trip against the 2nd place Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are the current favorite to be the strongest challenge to the Cavaliers winning the East, and while their overall roster isn't amazing, they have one of the best one-two punches in the league with their backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

2015/2016 NBA Season
@
28-15

28-15
January 24, 2016  3:00 PM (PDT)
Air Canada Centre (Toronto, Canada)
Prime Ticket, TSN2, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2015-2016 Regular Season)
12-4 East 20-8
16-11 West 8-7
4-4 Division 7-1
15-7 Home 14-6
13-8 Road 14-9
8-12 .500 + 12-9
20-3 - .500 16-6
3-0 OT 1-1
8-2 L10 8-2
Projected Starters
Kyle Lowry PG Chris Paul
DeMar DeRozan SG JJ Redick
James Johnson SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Luis Scola PF Paul Pierce
Jonas Valanciunas C DeAndre Jordan
Advanced Stats (2015-2016 Regular Season)
98.4 (13th of 30) Pace 95.6 (26th of 30)
106.4 (4th of 30) ORtg 105.1 (6th of 30)
101.5 (12th of 30) DRtg 100.9 (10th of 30)
Injuries/Other
DeMarre Carroll (Out- knee surgery)
Blake Griffin (Doubtful- quad)
Raptors leading 2015-16 season series against Clippers; 1-0
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
11/22/2015
Los Angeles
Raptors 91, Clippers 80
Recap
Box Score

The State of the Clippers- The Clippers are in fourth place in the Western Conference and only trail the Thunder by a couple games. They have made a significant push even with their best or second best player out for around a month, and Chris Paul continues to play at an MVP level. Josh Smith was traded back to the Rockets for virtually nothing, though journeyman Jeff Ayres was quickly signed to a 10 day contract to replace his spot on the bench. While the Clips have regained their spot as one of the best teams in the NBA, most fans and writers continue to think of them as second class, with an outside shot at winning the title. Playing a quite good Raptors team on the road sans Blake Griffin should be a nice measuring stick for where the Clippers are at right now.

Canada's Only Team- The Raptors have played very well as of late, and have solidified their hold as the second seed in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference. Everything starts in their backcourt with freshly announced All Star starter Kyle Lowry and shoe-in reserve DeMar DeRozan. Almost all their ballhandling and offensive creation rests with those two players, especially because their big free agent acquisition-- DeMarre Carroll-- has been out or played injured most of the season. Filling Carroll's shoes are the other Raptors' free agent signings, all of whom have been terrific in their more limited roles. Corey Joseph has been a solid point guard off the bench who can play alongside Lowry, Bismack Biyombo was key in holding down the fort while Jonas Valanciunas was out, and Luis Scola has utilized his much improved three point shooting to help a team without a lot of floor spacing. The Raptors are dangerous,  and the Clippers will need to put forth their best effort to win tomorrow.

The Metrics- Both teams are strong offensively and slightly above average on the defensive side of the ball. The Raptors have missed Carroll, one of the better defenders at the small forward position in the NBA, but have seen various other players step up in his stead. Toronto play at a very slow pace, relying on their defense and the halfcourt offensive abilities of Lowry and DeRozan to carry them to victory. It is somewhat of a curious choice by coach Dwayne Casey, as most of his roster is young-ish and athletic, but it has paid off so far this season.

Star Back Courts Collide- Clipper fans know all about the greatness of CP3 and JJ Redick, but both have been particularly excellent with Griffin out. Paul has masterminded the Clips on both sides of the ball and has taken over games with his scoring repeatedly while Redick remains scorching hot from the field. They will meet their match in this contest, however, as Lowry and DeRozan each rank in the top five at their positions (by my reckoning anyway). Lowry is an efficient and relentless all around point guard who has become an extremely prolific outside shooter, but is also tough and covers ground on the defensive end. DeRozan has undergone a remarkable transformation (short of anything besides Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard) from underachieving lottery pick to overrated volume scorer and finally to legitimate star player. He gets to the line more than any player in the NBA outside of James Harden, and has abandoned the contested midrange shots of years prior to bulldozing attacks at the rim. CP3 and JJ will have their hands full (though Mbah a Moute will most likely take DeRozan for the majority of the game).

Upside on the Bench- The Raptors are in an enviable position as a franchise. They are very good now, their best players are still in their primes, and they have a lot of flexibility moving forward. Part of that is a large group of untested young players who could help the Raptors in years to come as veterans leave or get older. Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, and Norman Powell have barely got their toes wet in the NBA ocean, but all came into the league with some promise, and they haven't really lowered their stock much yet. Nogueira had a quick yet exciting stint in the rotation early in the season when Valanciunas was out, and Wright was one of my favorite picks from last years draft: I would be shocked if he doesn't have a decade long career as a backup point guard.

Blake Griffin Update- Blake is doubtful for this game and the rest of the road trip as well, but progress is being made and he is hopeful to return shortly thereafter.

Jeff Ayres- The Clippers signed Ayres to a 10 day contract immediately after the Josh Smith deal, so here is a quick bit of background if you haven't caught up already. He came into the league as the first pick of the second round in the 2009 draft, landing on the Trailblazers as Jeff Pendergraph. He remained there for a season before being traded to the Pacers, where he played only spot minutes for two seasons (partially due to knee injuries). Jeff then signed with the Spurs in 2013, changing his last name to Ayres shortly thereafter. He appeared in 73 of San Antonio's games in their championship season off the bench, and was on their roster last year as well, albeit in a more limited role. He was waived this offseason for David West, and then went 1st in the D-League lottery. Ayres is a classic end of the bench big man: he hustles, does the dirty work, and is a solid locker room presence. It wouldn't be shocking if he stuck for the rest of the season, though any potential trades might demand an open roster spot.

With all that said, this should be a very fun game between two good playoff teams. Go Clippers!