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Raptors host Warriors seeking another statement win

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Josh Weinstein

After one of their most dominant games of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers that saw them win by a whopping 34 points, the Toronto Raptors hope to prove that game was no fluke when they welcome the juggernaut Golden State Warriors into town. Although a win over Cleveland was an unexpected and impressive accomplishment, beating Golden State will be that much more daunting a task. The Warriors enter Saturday's game having won seven consecutive meetings over the Raps.

Toronto Raptors

Dwane Casey's club is feeling pretty confident after a dominant performance versus the Cavs, but don't expect that to alter the team's work ethic going forward; if anything, a win like that will only make the team work harder. One of the more impressive characteristics of this Raptors team is how even-keeled they've been able to stay all season. Whether they win or lose, Toronto always comes out with the same level of intensity each game. So long as the Raps stay hungry and get everyone involved on both ends the way they have been, they'll be in good shape.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors, like every great team, tend to hit the cruise control button for most of the regular season. Even so, the Dubs regularly dominate their opponents and it's not hard to find out why. This is a team that has two MVP candidates in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant on its roster, as well as two other stars in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Even when one or two of those guys are out of the lineup, the Warriors still have enough talent to win anyways. As expected, Golden State is the clear favourite to repeat as champions. No one would be shocked if they do just that.

Watchability ranking – 10/10

Whenever Golden State comes to Toronto, the game becomes can't-miss television. Both teams have been exceptional to start the season and should put on an offensive showcase at the Air Canada Centre. There's plenty of star power in this one, too, even if Curry ends up sitting out with a sprained ankle.

Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM ET. Here are the projected starting lineups:

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Introducing our weekly NBA 4-for-4

By Josh Weinstein

At Homestand Sports, we're pleased to introduce our weekly 4-for-4 to all of our readers. The goal of the 4-for-4 is to answer four questions weekly, with the goal of recapping the most notable storylines and trends from the past week of NBA action. Enjoy!

The Player

Q: Players catch our attention in unexpected ways. Who’s one player locally or nationally who you're watching especially closely of late?  

While there’s been plenty of incredible talent around the NBA since the 2017-18 season tipped off, I’d have to single out Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell as someone I’ve been watching closely. The rookie has taken the league by storm in first season, averaging 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists to lead the Jazz offence. Mitchell’s shooting percentages haven’t been exceptional so far, but that’s to be expected of a rook still trying to find comfort in the league. It’s less than halfway through the season and we aren’t even at the all-star break, so expect Mitchell to only get better with every passing game. He’s been the steal of the draft so far and is a star in the making.

The Trend

Q: It’s never too early to start looking for trends when it comes to players, general managers, coaches, teams or even the league as a whole. What’s one trend that’s standing out to you so far in 2016?

The trend that’s grasped my attention most has to be how, at least record wise, Eastern Conference teams have actually held their own in comparison to Western Conference squads. Traditionally, the West has had significantly stronger playoff teams than the teams out East. This season, though, the talent level is almost identical. As of today, the top-eight seeds in the Eastern Conference own a combined record of 201-127 (63% win percentage), which is nearly identical to the 202-130 (64% win percentage) record belonging to the West’s playoff teams. I’m interested to see if this trend continues so that by season’s end, each conference’s respective playoff teams collectively own a similar win-loss record. If I had to bet on it, I’d say the West teams pull away as the season progresses, given how the conference’s playoff teams haven’t had a worse win percentage than the East’s playoff bunch in over 15 years.

The Surprise

Q: There are surprise teams every year, and while most end up fading away, some contend all year. Are there any legitimate contenders among this year’s surprise clubs?

After losing Gordon Hayward just five minutes into their season, the Boston Celtics have rallied together and rattled off a 34-10 record so far in 2017-18. It’s incredible how much success this group has achieved, considering Hayward was supposed to be the second offensive option for the C’s this season. Young guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shown poise beyond their years, while Kyrie Irving has buckled down on both ends of the floor and evolved into the Celtics leader on and off the floor. Credit to Brad Stevens’ coaching job as well. Not many coaches would be able to adjust so quickly, let alone thrive, after losing a talent of Hayward’s caliber so suddenly. What makes Boston’s dominance even more impressive is how quickly the team’s new-look roster has come together after significant personnel turnover this past offseason. There are other teams that stand out, but of all of the surprise clubs this season, the Celtics extraordinary success has to be the most shocking.

The Read

Q: What’s something smart or interesting you read recently and why did it stand out?

Jackie McMullan’s piece on Kyrie Irving’s fallout with the Cavaliers and LeBron James plus his first season in Boston is an exceptional read. The article really takes you inside the star point guard’s mindset and helps explain why Irving’s thrived in his first season as the Celtics go-to option.

Also, if you're into podcasts, Adrian Wojnarowski recently sat down with Raptors star DeMar DeRozan for an in-depth conversation on a variety of topics, including his relationship with Kyle Lowry, why it's important for him to stay with the Raptors, and much more.

Both pieces of content really give you a deeper insight and fresh perspective on the life of NBA players that you can’t get anywhere else.

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Raptors get set for biggest test of the season so far against Cavaliers

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Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors have been waiting for this moment for quite some time. Since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, in fact.

The Raps finally get a chance at revenge when they host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night. There's quite a history between these two squads, given Cleveland has eliminated Toronto in each of the last two postseasons. You can expect Dwane Casey's club to use this game to show everyone that they mean business and truly belong in the contender category along with the likes of Cleveland and Boston.

Toronto Raptors

So far, the New Year has been very kind to the Raptors, as they've won four of their five games to start 2018. If you go even farther back in Toronto's schedule, you'll notice the team has an impressive 11-3 record in its past 14 contests. With each passing game, the Raptors seem to be developing more chemistry with one another, as well as increased comfort when it comes to moving the ball with purpose and creating good looks. If there's one negative so far this season, it's that Toronto is 11-8 against teams above-.500. To be the best, you've got to beat the best, which is something the Raps have struggled with somewhat this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Isaiah Thomas is finally healthy, which means we'll slowly start to get an idea of how this Cleveland team will be functioning, at least on the offensive end, come playoff time. It will take some time for Tyronn Lue to etch out a role for a dominant scorer like Thomas, but once he does, the rest of the league should be on high alert. LeBron James continues to fill the stat sheet each and every game for the Cavaliers, who after a slow start to the season, are starting to reestablish themselves as the team to beat out East. The team's defence is an ongoing concern and tends to plague them more often than not, especially against the league's elite. But with an offence as potent as Cleveland's, most nights they'll have no problem simply outscoring the opposition.

Watchability Ranking - 10/10

This game is as must-watch a game as any so far this season, largely because it will go a long way in showing how the new-look Raptors stack up against the East's most elite team. Also, you can expect a highly competitive contest for 48 minutes given the bad-blood and history between these two clubs.

Game-time is set for 8:00 PM ET. Below are the projected starting lineups:

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Raptors have win streak snapped by Heat in heartbreaking fashion

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Josh Weinstein

Wayne Ellington’s baseline layup fell through the mesh with 0.3 seconds remaining to hand the Miami Heat a shocking 90-89 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. With the loss, Miami extended its winning streak to five games. Meanwhile, Toronto had a five-game winning streak of its own snapped.

Even in defeat, the Raptors showed what their collective character is all about; all of Dwane Casey’s players embodied a highly competitive, tenacious, never-say-quit brand of basketball on Tuesday night. Over the course of the season, those characteristics have become ingrained in the Raptors’ DNA.

The team plane landed at 4 AM. The Raps were playing the second night of a back-to-back set. Kyle Lowry was unavailable, and Serge Ibaka was ejected early in the second half after getting in a skirmish with James Johnson. Toronto really had all the necessary excuses to lean on in the event of a poor performance. But lo and behold, Casey’s squad showed no quit.

Even though they were exhausted, Toronto battled back in the fourth, outscoring Miami 25-18 to regain a slim lead with only a couple minutes remaining. It would have been quite the comeback if not for Ellington’s last-second heroics.

Speaking of Ellington, the sharpshooter chipped in 15 points off the bench. Heat rookie Bam Adebayo was also terrific off the pine, finishing with a monster line of 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 32 minutes. Goran Dragic led Miami with 24 points on 10 of 21 shooting.

DeMar DeRozan had a rare off night from the field, converting just 10 of his 29 field goals to finish with a team-high 25 points. DeRozan did lead Toronto’s fourth-quarter comeback, but like the rest of the Raps was clearly exhausted.

With an off-day before Thursday’s game against Cleveland, expect DeRozan and the Raptors to rest up and bounce back with a stronger performance when the lights are shining brightest.

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Raptors return home to host Heat

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Josh Weinstein

Home, sweet home.

The Toronto Raptors return to Air Canada Centre as they get ready to play host to the Miami Heat on the second night of the team’s back-to-back set. For Toronto, the team will be without the services of Kyle Lowry, after he suffered an acute back spasm in the closing minutes of regulation last night versus the Nets. Lowry is officially listed as day-to-day, but you can expect Raptors management to err on the side of caution and wait until their star point guard is 100 percent before clearing him to return.

Jonas Valanciunas has made his presence felt in two consecutive performances, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds on Friday, then 21 points and 13 rebounds on Monday against the Nets. The Lithuanian will be in tough tonight against a formidable interior presence in Hassan Whiteside. Expecting him to have yet another dominant game seems far-fetched. That being said, someone needs to be more involved offensively given Lowry is out. While Delon Wright is likely to be that guy, don’t rule out Valanciunas just yet.

Tonight’s matchup is a battle of win streaks, with the Raptors putting their five-gamer on the line against the Heat’s four. The Heat have won all four games during their streak by single-digits. That should change tonight, given Miami is up against a Raptors team that is leaps and bounds better than the previous competition the team has faced in its past four outings. Even without Lowry in the lineup, the Heat should not make the mistake of underestimating Toronto’s skill level.

Side note: DeMar DeRozan is averaging 35.5 PPG in four games since the calendar turned to 2018. He’s shown absolutely no signs of slowing down at this point, especially when the 3-pointer is a part of his offensive arsenal. That aspect of his game needs to be taken seriously by opponents going forward if it’s not already.

Tip-off is at 7:30 PM ET on TSN.

Projected starting lineups: 

Toronto Raptors (28-10)

  • PG Delon Wright
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Miami Heat (22-17)

  • PG Goran Dragic
  • SG Tyler Johnson
  • SF Josh Richardson
  • PF Kelly Olynyk
  • C Hassan Whiteside

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Raptors extend win streak, but at a heavy cost

Josh Weinstein

DeMar DeRozan’s floater and subsequent free throw to complete an and-one opportunity with 26 seconds left in overtime helped the Toronto Raptors squeak past the Brooklyn Nets for a narrow 114-113 victory at Barclays Center. DeRozan was magnificent throughout this game, getting key buckets for the Raptors when they needed them most down the stretch to finish with a game-high 35 points.

Despite the fifth straight win, Raptors fans were left with an uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty as the final buzzer sounded.

At the 1:09 mark of the overtime period, Kyle Lowry went up against Joe Harris and Quincy Acy to try and haul in an offensive rebound. After failing to come down with the board, Lowry took a hard fall, landing square on his back. He took a quick breather, got himself up, then collapsed after trying to walk off under his own power. Lowry had to be carried to the locker room with the help of his teammates.

By the looks of it, Lowry’s injury – which was announced as an acute back spasm postgame –  should force him to miss some time. As for how long he’ll be out, that is yet to be determined. Expect Delon Wright’s workload to increase substantially with Lowry out of the lineup.

After finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes against Milwaukee this past Friday, Jonas Valanciunas nearly replicated the exact same stat line to a tee. The big man finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and one block in 26 minutes of action. Valanciunas has been plagued with inconsistent performances for the majority of the season, but his last two outings are very encouraging. With Lowry potentially missing time, the Lithuanian will need to be counted on for performances like these even more regularly in the short-term.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored a career-high 31 points and dished eight assists in the loss for Brooklyn.

The Raptors play the second night of their back-to-back Tuesday night against the Miami Heat at Air Canada Centre.

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Red-hot Raptors look to keep rolling against Nets in Brooklyn

Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors seek a fifth straight win when they visit the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center Monday night. The game tips off at 7:30 PM ET and is available on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.

Toronto is off to its strongest start in franchise history with a 27-10 record, in large part due to the team’s newfound offensive approach that features more ball movement and 3-point shooting.

DeMar DeRozan has been the main catalyst at the forefront of the Raptors basketball renaissance, reinventing himself as an offensive distributor and surprisingly effective 3-point marksman. The Compton native ushered in the New Year with a franchise-best 52-point outburst and enters Monday’s matchup averaging 36 points and six assists since the calendar turned to 2018. As long as DeRozan is producing with this much offensive diversity and efficiency, the Raptors will always have a legitimate chance to win, even against the league’s elite. With matchups against Golden State and Cleveland later this week, Toronto will get a chance to prove just that.

However, before they arrive at those two challenging tests in the schedule, the Raptors need to take care of business in the final game of their road trip in Brooklyn.

The Nets enter Monday nine games below .500 at 15-24 and face a challenging, yet self-inflicted dilemma. Because of ill-informed trades, Cleveland owns Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round draft pick, meaning the Nets have really no incentive to tank for a high selection come June. With a lack of talent capable of helping them compete at a high-level on a night-to-night basis, and no sign of help coming in the foreseeable future, head coach Kenny Atkinson’s club is forced to settle for mediocre performances, at least until 2019.

If you had to find a bright spot on the Nets roster, it would be Spencer Dinwiddie. The 2014 second-round pick has filled in admirably at point guard for the injured D’Angelo Russell, averaging 13 points and a tad over six assists this season. With a very team-friendly contract that pays him just over $2 million this season and next combined, Dinwiddie appears to be a true diamond-in-the-rough for Brooklyn.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors (27-10)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Brooklyn Nets (15-24)

  • PG Spencer Dinwiddie
  • SG Allen Crabbe
  • SF Caris LaVert
  • PF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  • C Tyler Zeller

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JV explodes in second half to help Raptors win big

Josh Weinstein

Jonas Valanciunas’ 20 points and 13 rebounds led the Toronto Raptors to a convincing blowout 129-111 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night. Believe me, the score made it look far closer than the game actually was.

Valanciunas punished the Bucks down low in the second half, securing numerous offensive rebounds and converting multiple and-one opportunities as part of his big night. The best part for JV, aside from his efficiency (8/9 FGs) was that it took him just 17 minutes to put up the impressive numbers that he did. Performances like these are few and far between for the Lithuanian, but if he can replicate efforts like these more often, the Raptors will be far better off for it.

DeMar DeRozan continued his recent trend of massive third quarter scoring outputs, this time scoring 14 of his 20 points in the frame. In the team’s last game on Wednesday, DeRozan scored 18 of his 35 in the third. The Compton-native has made a trend of bouncing back from slow starts in emphatic fashion when his team needs it most. He truly is a top-tier talent in this league, and claiming otherwise is foolish.

Serge Ibaka had another strong offensive game with 21 points on 8/12 shooting. If you take away his four misses from long-range, he was a perfect 7/7 from the field.

After Friday’s win, the Raps sit 2.5 back of the Celtics for first in the East. At 27-10, Toronto sits behind Boston in the standings in part because they’ve played five fewer games (and happen to have five fewer wins as a result). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raps continue to close the gap between them and the Celtics, considering the way they’ve been playing of late. Also, Cleveland can’t be overlooked at the moment as they’re right on Toronto’s tail.

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Delon Wright's career night pushes Raptors past Bulls

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Josh Weinstein

If you would have told me Delon Wright would finish Wednesday's game at United Center with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals, I would have thought you were crazy. The idea that Wright could set new career highs in points and rebounds without a starter's workload seemed improbable, and understandably so. But if there's anything the Raptors 124-115 over the Bulls taught us, it's that anything is possible.

Wright put forth an effort he won't forget anytime soon in Chi-Town, driving inside with creativity, while hitting shots from beyond the arc with ease. Aside from DeMar DeRozan he was the biggest reason why Toronto was able to pull away in the second half to earn a third-straight win.

Speaking of DeRozan, he continued his tremendous play of late, pouring in a game-high 35 points for the Raps. After a slow start in the first half, DeMar came to life in the third quarter by driving inside relentlessly and getting to the charity stripe. Once he saw the ball fall through the hoop a few times DeRozan started punishing the Bulls from the land beyond, nailing another five 3-pointers in the win. The Raps star shooting guard has now hit 10/17 3-pointers and gone a perfect 23/23 from the charity stripe in his past two games. 87 points in two games to start the New Year is quite the feat.

Lauri Markkanen and Justin Holiday carried the Bulls offensively with 22 and 26 points respectively, while Nikola Mirotic dropped 20 off the bench. Ultimately, though, the combination of Wright and DeRozan proved too insurmountable to keep up with offensively down the stretch.

Toronto has now won three straight contests over the Bulls, and three straight overall. The Raps next play against the Milwaukee Bucks for the second time this week on Friday.

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Raptors host Bulls looking for 3rd straight win

Josh Weinstein

Having flipped the script against a Bulls team that dominated them in the win column for the better part of a decade, the Raptors host Chicago tonight at Air Canada Centre looking for their third straight victory against the club.

Fresh off an incredible 52-point performance, DeMar DeRozan looks to carry Toronto with another dominant scoring output. Obviously, he’s not going to reach near the 50-point plateau tonight – or will he? –  but even anything close to that level of production will be welcomed with open arms by his Raptors teammates and coaches.

Aside from DeRozan’s hot streak of late, another positive for the Raptors is that roster is fully intact health-wise. Sure, some players may see less playing time going forward, but at the end of the day having the luxury of depth is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Given the unpredictability of the injury bug, you never know when Dwane Casey will have to call upon the next man in the rotation. In addition to depth, having an abundance of talent will increase healthy competition among teammates for a spot in the rotation.

Even though they won’t be in contention come playoff time, the Bulls should not be overlooked tonight. With nice pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic, Justin Holiday, and Bobby Portis, plus second-year point guard Kris Dunn playing out of his mind lately, Chicago has the capability to shock a team with a strong effort across 48 minutes. While the Raptors certainly have more talent on paper, they don’t always put together a complete effort for four quarters, which has plagued them at times this season. We’ll see how they come out of the gates for a road matchup tonight.

Tip-off is at 8:00 PM ET.

Projected starting lineups:

 Toronto Raptors (25-10)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Chicago Bulls (13-24)

  • PG Kris Dunn
  • SG Justin Holiday
  • SF Denzel Valentine
  • PF Lauri Markkanen
  • C Robin Lopez

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DeRozan starts off New Year with 52-point explosion against Bucks

Josh Weinstein

Someone get the fire extinguisher out because DeMar DeRozan was absolutely scorching hot on the offensive end all night at the Air Canada Centre.

The Compton-native opened up 2018 with a bang, setting a new Raptors franchise record with 52 points in Toronto’s 131-127 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Check out the rest of his incredible stat line:

52 points (17/29 FG, 5/9 3-pointers), 13/13 FTs, 8 assists, 5 rebounds

You can bet that Sports Illustrated author Rob Mahoney is going to rank DeRozan a whole lot higher in the magazine’s preseason top 100 player rankings next time around.

If you recall, Mahoney controversially ranked DeRozan as the 36th best talent in the league. In his evaluation of the shooting guard, Mahoney referenced his tendency to over-dribble, reluctance to take 3-pointers, and poor playoff showings as evidence to support the ranking, something DeRozan didn’t take kindly to.

Since then, DeRozan has made Mahoney eat his words, seemingly fixing all of the supposed shortcomings in his game from seasons past. Because of his team’s new-look pace-and-space offence, and plenty of reps in the gym when no one’s watching, the Raptors star now confidently shoots 3-pointers and gets teammates involved more than he ever has.

DeRozan’s career night helped improve his club’s home record to an NBA-best 14-1. It’s the Raptors best start at home through 15 games in franchise history. Better yet, Monday’s win helped extend Toronto’s home winning streak to a franchise-high 12 games.

The Raptors look to keep the good times rolling on Wednesday against the Bulls.

Also, it’s worth noting that DeRozan and the Raptors face the Bucks in a rematch on Friday.

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Thunder can't be tamed, Raptors lose second in as many nights

Zack Cook After finding themselves a top the Eastern Conference after Christmas Day, the Raptors have quietly lost two in a row and dropped back to second. The OKC Thunder had their way with the Raptors defence for four quarters in their 124-107 victory over Toronto. Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined to score 63 points, while CJ Miles led the charge for Toronto with 20. Miles shot 50% from beyond the arc, going six for twelve. You can always tell when a shooter is feeling it on a given night and that was certainly Miles last night. Despite the loss, the Raptors had five scorers register in double figures. OKC shot 53% from the floor, while Toronto left a lot to be desired, shooting just 42% on the night.  The Raptors early season success was most prevalent from their depth and usage of the bench, not to mention their improved defensive play. The past two nights, that Raptors have gotten lazy on the defensive side of the ball and it's shown on the scoreboard. Well it is very difficult to stop Westbrook, you do have to do a better job of getting in his face and contesting shots as well as clogging lanes so he can't drive so freely.  Toronto returns home on Friday for a date at the ACC with the Atlanta Hawks. Look for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to have bounce back efforts. DeRozan had a stretch of 3-4 really good games in a row, but has struggled in the last two. His scoring prowess is a major key to the overall success of the club.  Keep an eye on Norman Powell, who played just nine minutes in the loss against an up tempo Thunder team. We'll see how his minutes bounce back on Friday night vs. Atlanta.     

Zack Cook

After finding themselves a top the Eastern Conference after Christmas Day, the Raptors have quietly lost two in a row and dropped back to second. The OKC Thunder had their way with the Raptors defence for four quarters in their 124-107 victory over Toronto. Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined to score 63 points, while CJ Miles led the charge for Toronto with 20. Miles shot 50% from beyond the arc, going six for twelve. You can always tell when a shooter is feeling it on a given night and that was certainly Miles last night. Despite the loss, the Raptors had five scorers register in double figures. OKC shot 53% from the floor, while Toronto left a lot to be desired, shooting just 42% on the night. 

The Raptors early season success was most prevalent from their depth and usage of the bench, not to mention their improved defensive play. The past two nights, that Raptors have gotten lazy on the defensive side of the ball and it's shown on the scoreboard. Well it is very difficult to stop Westbrook, you do have to do a better job of getting in his face and contesting shots as well as clogging lanes so he can't drive so freely. 

Toronto returns home on Friday for a date at the ACC with the Atlanta Hawks. Look for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to have bounce back efforts. DeRozan had a stretch of 3-4 really good games in a row, but has struggled in the last two. His scoring prowess is a major key to the overall success of the club. 

Keep an eye on Norman Powell, who played just nine minutes in the loss against an up tempo Thunder team. We'll see how his minutes bounce back on Friday night vs. Atlanta. 

 

 

Raptors can't stop Mavs, hope to start new win streak vs. Thunder

Zack Cook The Toronto Raptors will look to bounce back after having their six game win streak snapped last night against the Dallas Mavericks. Tonight, they'll visit Oklahoma City to take on Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are coming off of a Christmas Day victory against the Rockets where the trio combined for 75 points. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry will have a tough assignment tonight, he'll be asked to guard last years league MVP Westbrook.  George has been playing much better of late since his homecoming against the Indiana Pacers in which he struggled. Since that contest, George has been doing a little bit of everything, which is exactly what the Thunder were looking for when they acquired him this off season. Anthony hasn't come as advertised, but we'll see how he plays down the stretch the games begin to mean a little more. After a dismal start to the season, the Thunder have won five straight games and sit tied for fifth in the Western Conference at 19-15.  A ghost of Christmas past appeared in the Raptors loss last night with Dirk Nowitzki pouring in 18 points, second on the Mavs to JJ Barea's 20. The Raptors will need a stronger effort defensively against the Thunder after letting four Mavs score in double figures. Scoring won't exactly come easy for the Raptors tonight with a much improved OKC defence. The Raptors will need their depth to come into play if they hope to defeat an OKC team that is 13-4 at home this year.  Projected Raptor Starters PG Kyle Lowry SG DeMar DeRozan SF OG Anunoby PF Serge Ibaka C Jonas Valanciunas Projected Thunder Starters PG Russell Westbrook SG Andre Roberson SF Paul George PF Carmelo Anthony C Steven Adams

Zack Cook

The Toronto Raptors will look to bounce back after having their six game win streak snapped last night against the Dallas Mavericks. Tonight, they'll visit Oklahoma City to take on Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are coming off of a Christmas Day victory against the Rockets where the trio combined for 75 points. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry will have a tough assignment tonight, he'll be asked to guard last years league MVP Westbrook. 

George has been playing much better of late since his homecoming against the Indiana Pacers in which he struggled. Since that contest, George has been doing a little bit of everything, which is exactly what the Thunder were looking for when they acquired him this off season. Anthony hasn't come as advertised, but we'll see how he plays down the stretch the games begin to mean a little more. After a dismal start to the season, the Thunder have won five straight games and sit tied for fifth in the Western Conference at 19-15. 

A ghost of Christmas past appeared in the Raptors loss last night with Dirk Nowitzki pouring in 18 points, second on the Mavs to JJ Barea's 20. The Raptors will need a stronger effort defensively against the Thunder after letting four Mavs score in double figures. Scoring won't exactly come easy for the Raptors tonight with a much improved OKC defence. The Raptors will need their depth to come into play if they hope to defeat an OKC team that is 13-4 at home this year. 

Projected Raptor Starters

PG Kyle Lowry

SG DeMar DeRozan

SF OG Anunoby

PF Serge Ibaka

C Jonas Valanciunas

Projected Thunder Starters

PG Russell Westbrook

SG Andre Roberson

SF Paul George

PF Carmelo Anthony

C Steven Adams

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First-place Raptors looking for seventh straight win

Josh Weinstein

Even though the Toronto Raptors didn’t actually play on Christmas Day, they still received holiday gifts from two of their conference rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. With both the Cavs and C’s losing out in their respective Christmas matchups, the Raptors moved into first place in the Eastern Conference based on win percentage. Yes, we’re only 31 games into the season, but being the number-one seed in the conference is no easy feat and reflects just how strong a start the Raptors have had. With a deep rotation and plenty of talent that works well together on the roster, don’t expect Toronto to enter a rut anytime soon, especially with an easy schedule in the coming weeks.

Toronto has a chance to extend its winning streak to a season-long seven games when they take on the Western Conference basement dwellers, the Dallas Mavericks.

Outside of Harrison Barnes, the Mavs don’t have many bright spots on their roster. Dirk Nowitzki is well past his prime while rookie Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, which are just two of the many reasons why Dallas has struggled this season. Expectations weren’t high to begin with, but injuries to key rotation pieces in Seth Curry and Nerlens Noel have made matters far more challenging. Expect one of the league’s worst offences to have a challenging time keeping up with the Raptors top-three offensive attack.

Tip-off is at 7:00 PM ET. 

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors (23-8)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Dallas Mavericks (9-25)

  • PG Dennis Smith Jr.
  • SG Wesley Matthews
  • SF Harrison Barnes
  • PF Maxi Kleber
  • C Dirk Nowitzki

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Raptors maintain momentum with big win over 76ers

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Josh Weinstein

Backed by another outstanding DeMar DeRozan scoring performance, the Toronto Raptors trounced the Philadelphia 76ers 102-86 to sweep the teams’ home-and-home series and earn their 12th win in 13 games. The win was also the club’s 10th straight at home.

After dropping a career-high 45 points on Thursday in Philly, DeRozan kept on rolling with 29 points and four 3-pointers. While his efficiency wasn’t quite as sensational as we’ve grown accustomed to (9/20 from the field), DeRozan still carried the Raptors on the offensive end and helped the club pull away in the fourth. The Raps all-star now has 10 3-pointers in his past two games. One of the weakest components of his offensive repertoire is quickly turning into one of his strengths with each passing game this season.

It was clear from the get-go that Toronto’s home court advantage would make a difference in this one. Considering how close Thursday’s game in Philadelphia was, the Raptors were looking to come out on their own floor and set the tone early and carry out a strong display on both ends throughout the game. Safe to say that with a convincing 16-point victory, the guys did just that.

Joel Embiid made his return for Philadelphia after back soreness kept him out for three games. The big man was limited to just 22 minutes but was effective, scoring 14 points, grabbing eight boards, and swatting away three shots. Dario Saric had a great game for Philadelphia just two days after flirting with a triple-double against Toronto, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.

What really cost the 76ers were turnovers. They had 22 overall, and 8 combined between their primary ball handlers Ben Simmons and Embiid. It’s tough to escape with a win right now against a sizzling Toronto team even if you’re playing disciplined basketball. Being careless with the rock only makes defeating the Raptors that much more challenging.

The Raptors get a well-deserved break to celebrate Christmas, then return to the court in Dallas against the Mavericks on Tuesday.

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Raptors return home to host 76ers

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Josh Weinstein

After an impressive comeback against the 76ers just two days ago, the Toronto Raptors look for a more complete, dominant performance when they host Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre in the second half of the two teams’ home-and-home series. Coming back from a 22-point second half deficit on the road like the Raps did on Thursday is impressive, but if you’re Dwane Casey, Saturday’s rematch presents an opportunity to showcase how much more dominant the Raptors can be in their own backyard, especially against inferior competition.

The Raps have been cruising in December, having won nine of their 10 games this month. The schedule doesn’t get much tougher for Toronto prior to the New Year, so expect the good times to keep on rolling, at least for the foreseeable future.

Fresh off setting a new career-high with 45 points, DeMar DeRozan has the pleasure of facing the same team he torched. Philly had no answer for the all-star on Thursday, allowing DeRozan to thrive inside (converted 13 of 15 free throws) and out (career-high six 3-pointers). With a lack of defenders capable of containing DeRozan, there’s no reason why he can’t go off for another big game once again.

 

The Raptors have been fortunate so far, in that they haven’t had to face Joel Embiid. The former Kansas standout hasn’t suited up in the two games against Toronto this season and is questionable ahead of the Raptors and 76ers third meeting of the season. J.J. Redick will miss today’s game.

Tip-off is set for 5:00 PM ET.

Projected starting lineups: 

Toronto Raptors (22-8)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Philadelphia 76ers (14-17)

  • PG Ben Simmons
  • SG Jerryd Bayless
  • SF Robert Covington
  • PF Dario Saric
  • C Joel Embiid – Amir Johnson will start if Embiid can’t play.

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DeRozan sets new career-high in Raptors comeback win

Josh Weinstein

DeMar DeRozan carried the Toronto Raptors with a career-high 45 points to a 114-109 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. His efforts helped extend Toronto’s winning streak to five games and earned the club its 11th win in its last 12 outings.

The Raptors looked down and out, trailing by 22 less than three minutes into the second half. It would have been an understandable loss for Dwane Casey’s squad, given they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and arrived in Philly late last night. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this year’s Raps, though, it’s that they don’t have an ounce of quit in them.

The Raptors outscored the 76ers 14-0 over the next five minutes of the third quarter to bring the game to within single-digits, then ultimately tied the game to cap off what ended up being a 30-8 scoring run. The Raptors made crisp rotations and had excellent defensive focus throughout the comeback to perfectly compliment DeRozan’s marvelous night, which saw him sink a career-high six 3-pointers (including four in the first half alone). He also chipped in three assists, two steals, and a block.

Kyle Lowry added 23 points and nine assists of his own in another solid offensive performance against his hometown team. The only downside of his game was his seven turnovers.

With Joel Embiid sitting out, Dario Saric was just one assist shy of his first career triple-double, finishing with a final line of 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for Philadelphia. Ben Simmons led his team with 20 points.

The Raptors don’t have to wait long for a rematch against the 76ers. These two teams switch venues to the Air Canada Centre for the second game of a home-and-home series on Saturday.

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Red-hot Raptors visit The Process in Philadelphia

Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors have been sizzling of late, winners of four in a row and 10 of their last 11 games. They’ll have a chance to continue this prolonged stretch of success when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center tonight in the second night of a back-to-back set.

Kyle Lowry loves playing against his hometown team, which is clear by the dominance he displays whenever he faces them. Lowry has shredded the 76ers, especially in the past three seasons, averaging 20 points in eight meetings against them over that span. With a tough matchup against the agile and much taller Ben Simmons looming though, Lowry could have a tough time creating offence the way he normally does against Philly, especially considering how much he’ll have to buckle down defensively against the 76ers standout rookie.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is listed as questionable ahead of tip-off. If he’s not in the lineup, this game should be a much easier one to win for Toronto. The 76ers are just 1-6 without their star centre in the lineup.

Game-time is set for 7:00 PM ET.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors (21-8)

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Philadelphia 76ers (14-16)

  • PG Ben Simmons
  • SG Timothe Luwawu-Cabarot
  • SF Robert Covington
  • PF Dario Saric
  • C Amir Johnson

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OG Anunoby drills six three's in Raptors thumping of Hornets

Zack Cook The Denver Nuggets thought they were smarter than everyone else. They traded down in the draft, thinking that Indiana forward OG Anunoby would still be on the board. In the process, they traded away budding Utah star Donovan Mitchell and missed out on Anunoby. A lot of teams passed over on Anunoby, who was coming off knee surgery before the 2017 draft. One of his flaws was that people questioned his upside, and whether he could put it all together. Well, a lot of the teams that passed over on him will be kicking themselves now because this kid brings it all. Anunoby drilled six three's and totaled 20 points in the Raptors 129-111 blowout victory over the Charlotte Hornets. One thing that's surprised many about Anunoby's game is his ability to hit the three from the corner. It's hard not to be impressed with the early development of Anunoby. As for what the future holds, time will tell. The Raptors tied a season high with 16 three pointers, and yet they still have a ton of critics in the NBA. Maybe it's deserved, but well have to see when the Raptors play some tougher competition.  The Raptors have needed this from Anunoby, specifically because Patrick Patterson just wasn't able to get the job done in his Raptors tenure.  DeMar DeRozan was in another giving mood on Wednesday, he dished out eight dimes and added 28 points, a team high of his own. Jeremy Lamb of Charlotte led the contest with 32 points on 11 of 17 shooting from the field.  Kyle Lowry and the Raptors will be in his hometown tonight in Philadelphia for a bout with the Philadelphia 76ers. Young big man Joel Embiid is listed as questionable, while Lowry has scored 20 or more points in his last five visits to the city of Brotherly love.   

Zack Cook

The Denver Nuggets thought they were smarter than everyone else. They traded down in the draft, thinking that Indiana forward OG Anunoby would still be on the board. In the process, they traded away budding Utah star Donovan Mitchell and missed out on Anunoby. A lot of teams passed over on Anunoby, who was coming off knee surgery before the 2017 draft.

One of his flaws was that people questioned his upside, and whether he could put it all together. Well, a lot of the teams that passed over on him will be kicking themselves now because this kid brings it all.

Anunoby drilled six three's and totaled 20 points in the Raptors 129-111 blowout victory over the Charlotte Hornets. One thing that's surprised many about Anunoby's game is his ability to hit the three from the corner. It's hard not to be impressed with the early development of Anunoby. As for what the future holds, time will tell. The Raptors tied a season high with 16 three pointers, and yet they still have a ton of critics in the NBA. Maybe it's deserved, but well have to see when the Raptors play some tougher competition. 

The Raptors have needed this from Anunoby, specifically because Patrick Patterson just wasn't able to get the job done in his Raptors tenure. 

DeMar DeRozan was in another giving mood on Wednesday, he dished out eight dimes and added 28 points, a team high of his own. Jeremy Lamb of Charlotte led the contest with 32 points on 11 of 17 shooting from the field. 

Kyle Lowry and the Raptors will be in his hometown tonight in Philadelphia for a bout with the Philadelphia 76ers. Young big man Joel Embiid is listed as questionable, while Lowry has scored 20 or more points in his last five visits to the city of Brotherly love. 

 

Raptors look to continue strong play vs. Hornets

Zack Cook Winners of three straight contests and nine of their last ten, the Toronto Raptors have certainly been feeling the holiday vibes of late. As the Raptors have come to expect, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been leading the charge, but we've seen some inspiring play from big man Jonas Valančiūnas in their most recent stretch of games.  This is the first of three meetings this season between Toronto and Charlotte, who have struggled through the first 30 games of the year posting just an 11-19 record. The Hornets enter this contest on the other end of the spectrum, losers of seven of their last ten games. Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky comes in hot, tying a season high with 24 points in Monday's 109-91 victory over the Knicks.  For the Raptors to find success against this Hornets team, they'll need to limit Nic Batum's athletism, and hope Dwight Howard doesn't have one of his monster nights against them. Kemba Walker enjoys playing the Raptors, averaging almost 18 5 5 against the club meaning shutting down this big three will go a long way for the Raptors to continue their winning streak.  DeMar DeRozan has been in the holiday giving spirit, his distribution of the ball has really helped orchestrate more offence for the Raptors.  Projected starting lineups: Toronto Raptors PG Kyle Lowry SG DeMar DeRozan SF OG Anunoby PF Serge Ibaka C Jonas Valanciunas Charlotte Hornets PG Kemba Walker SG Nic Batum SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist PF Marvin Williams C Dwight Howard

Zack Cook

Winners of three straight contests and nine of their last ten, the Toronto Raptors have certainly been feeling the holiday vibes of late. As the Raptors have come to expect, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been leading the charge, but we've seen some inspiring play from big man Jonas Valančiūnas in their most recent stretch of games. 

This is the first of three meetings this season between Toronto and Charlotte, who have struggled through the first 30 games of the year posting just an 11-19 record. The Hornets enter this contest on the other end of the spectrum, losers of seven of their last ten games. Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky comes in hot, tying a season high with 24 points in Monday's 109-91 victory over the Knicks. 

For the Raptors to find success against this Hornets team, they'll need to limit Nic Batum's athletism, and hope Dwight Howard doesn't have one of his monster nights against them. Kemba Walker enjoys playing the Raptors, averaging almost 18 5 5 against the club meaning shutting down this big three will go a long way for the Raptors to continue their winning streak. 

DeMar DeRozan has been in the holiday giving spirit, his distribution of the ball has really helped orchestrate more offence for the Raptors. 

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors

PG Kyle Lowry

SG DeMar DeRozan

SF OG Anunoby

PF Serge Ibaka

C Jonas Valanciunas

Charlotte Hornets

PG Kemba Walker

SG Nic Batum

SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

PF Marvin Williams

C Dwight Howard