It’s probably not the way that Dwane Casey would ideally have them playing, but the Toronto Raptors (24-7) continue to win with their offence. In posting 120, 110 and 116 points in a trio of games against the Bulls, Clippers and Nuggets, respectively, the Raps have managed 114 points per 100 possessions without go-to scorer DeMar DeRozan and have become the league’s most offensively efficient team.
With teams like Atlanta, Washington and Chicago trying to ease Toronto’s grasp on the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have begun their tough post-Christmas western swing with an eye-opening 110-98 victory against the Clippers and a comfortable 116-102 triumph over the Nuggets.
Kyle Lowry (25 points, seven assists) and Jonas Valanciunas (22 points, 11 rebounds) led the way against the Clips in a game that saw the Raptor bench come alive down the stretch (more on that below), while Lowry and Lou Williams combined for 61 points on 23-38 shooting against Denver on Sunday. Interestingly, the Raps are now 8-0 on the front end of back-to-backs and 5-3 on the tail end.
Reserves step up in crunch time
Entering the fourth quarter on Saturday in LA, the Raps led by two but JJ Redick had just helped orchestrate a 10-4 run for the dominant-at-home Clippers and you could sense the momentum swinging. Then, the bench got hot. After a James Johnson lay-up (while typically a second unit mainstay, Johnson got the start), the bench engineered their own 11-2 run on the back of eight points by Greivis Vasquez and a made three by Patrick Patterson, who has moved to No. 5 league-wide in three-point percentage. Later in the frame, Williams helped seal the win with eight points, including back-to-back threes, in less than two minutes of game time.
Lowry and Lou
Its about ten games too early to start dishing out mid-term grades, a stretch that will still include interesting tests against the Blazers and Warriors, among others. But its hard to imagine Lowry and Williams not ranking at the top of the class among the Raptors’ highest achievers. Lowry is averaging career highs in points (20.5), assists (7.7) and rebounds (4.7) per game while continuing to serve as the core of everything the Raptors do, particularly in light of DeRozan’s absence. Williams, meanwhile, has regained his old form as a game-changing spark off the bench, averaging 15 points per game and providing the type of secondary scoring that the club sorely needed heading into the year. The 61-point outburst against Denver was a fitting highlight for what has been a very successful first half from Lowry and Williams.
DeRozan’s slow recovery
It seemed pretty clear as soon as DeRozan tore his left adductor longus tendon against Dallas in November that it wasn’t going to be a quick recovery. But still, there must be some frustration shared by both player and team that there is still no timetable for his return as we get set to turn the page to 2015. He is looking more mobile as he continues to work with Director of Sports Sciences Alex McKechnie, but leg exercises are a long way off from full contact basketball, especially for a guy accustomed to logging big minutes.
Great article by The Globe & Mail’s Cathal Kelly on the club’s ability for identifying undervalued talent.
There’s a joke in here somewhere about Lou Williams being a versatile scorer that I should probably avoid.
The Nuggets offer a pretty dull mix of mediocre talent right now, so let’s focus on the Clippers. I was ready to write something about the Raps bench outdoing the vaunted Clippers reserves, but then I realized that they aren’t really all that vaunted. Right now, the Clips’ bench boasts Jamal Crawford, an okay back-up PG in Jordan Farmar, the skilled-but-injured Spencer Hawes and not much else. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is a servicable fourth big but hardly a key asset, while guys like Reggie Bullock, Hedo Turkoglu, Jared Cunningham, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ekpe Udoh are either has-been’s or never-was’es.
At present time, only two NBA clubs boast a better winning percentage than the Raptors’ .774 mark. Unfortunately, they also happen to be Toronto’s next two opponents on the road trip, Portland and Golden State. First up is a visit to the Moda Center tonight against the 25-7 Blazers (10:00pm, SN 360).
Prediction: Blazers 115, Raps 110 (record this season: 21-4)