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Clippers-Raptors Preview: Battle Weary

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Two teams needing a break will instead get one another.

NBA: Preseason-Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Tonight’s contest is a measuring stick game . . . for the Raptors. It feels good, for once, to be the measuring stick. And that’s what the Clippers are, sitting in the league’s catbird seat. Sure, this game could and should be a tough test, but if the Clippers have shown anything this season, it’s that they may be capable of beating anyone if they play their sharpest. The Clippers should win, which doesn’t mean they will, but such is the grind for a team that aspires to be the best in basketball. To be the best you have to beat all comers, or at least beat more than the next best team does.

The Antagonist:

The Raptors may be the Clippers’ Eastern sister. (Or brother — choose your own analogy.) Toronto’s core, much like LA’s, has been together for several seasons. Despite their regular season success, they’ve achieved no more than playoff second fiddle, although their recent conference finals appearance is one more than the Clippers possess. It’s possible that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan fall a bit short of being transcendent to the level of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but both are undoubtedly stars, and DeRozan in particular has found a new level of production after his point guard similarly did so last season. And like the Clippers, the Raptors have begun this season displaying a new comfort level, as well as a new, more business-like, demeanor. So, two well-adjusted machines enter tonight’s game, but unfortunately, again, one must leave in disappointment.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: The Raptors allow more than 33 field goal attempts inside five feet per game, second-worst in the NBA. The Clippers are ninth in field goal attempts taken inside five feet, which is more good than outstanding, but are certainly capable of shifting to a more interior-focused game with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Jonas Valanciunas hasn’t become the rim-shooting deterrent his size might indicate, and last season’s playoff hero Bismack Biyombo is in Orlando.
  • The Schedule: What does the schedule offer a Clippers squad that hasn’t had two consecutive off-days since before Halloween? Six road games in ten days, including a trip to Cleveland. Ouch.
  • Who’s Got the Legs? Actually, both teams have right to be tired. The Raptors played last night in Sacramento after playing extra basketball in the mile-high air of Denver on Friday. Plus, Toronto played (and lost) back to back games against the reigning NBA Finals participants on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two teams needing a break will instead get one another.
  • DeMidrange: The Internet has christened DeRozan in honor of his favorite shot, the 10-14 footer, of which he takes nearly 4.5 per game, more than any other player in the league. He’s converting an insane 57% of those shots, better than any player who takes more than two such shots, and it’s boosted his scoring average into the elite tier. It may also come crashing back down as he inevitably cools off.
  • Tear-rence Ross: Ross is producing like the shooter he was once billed to be. He’s hitting 46.3% from three and 48.8% overall. Those rates have pushed his PER into the eyebrow-raising 20s. They also blow away his career norms. How much is hot streak? How much is here to stay?
  • Pascal Under Pressure: Rookie power forward Pascal Siakam has started all 13 of Toronto’s games, a newsworthy overachievement by the 27th-overall pick in last summer’s draft. With Jared Sullinger injured and Head Coach Dwane Casey keen on keeping Patrick Patterson in a reserve spot, Siakam has been tabbed for a starting role. And Siakam has produced . . . like a rookie. The Raptors will eventually need Sullinger or another veteran replacement if they’re going to fulfill their loft season’s goals.
  • For the Raptors’ point of view, check out Raptors HQ.