The champ is here!
Pascal Siakam was brilliant with 34 points and 18 rebounds and five assists before fouling out, cementing his early bid for the All-Star game. Fred Van Vleet is making a surge of his own with 34 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
In a 112-106 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night, Siakam continued with 33 points while FVV came back down to earth. In his stead, Kyle Lowry scored 29 points with seven assists and four rebounds.
And then came the Bulls, a comfortable 108-84 victory in which everyone got involved.
The Raptors are well-balanced at every level with the league’s seventh-best defense and 11th-best offense. They are 18th in pace, fourth in rebounds, fourth in three-pointers and first in opponent efficiency.
Head Coach Nick Nurse is also one of the game’s best with in-game adjustments, obliterating opponents in the third quarter. The Raptors come out of the locker room first in scoring (33.7) and tenth in defense (24.3).
In many ways, the Raptors are built similarly to the Magic. They just do everything a little better.
They’re led by their defense but their offense is led a facilitating floor-general and a floor-stretching frontcourt. The team dominates the glass but they do make their share of mistakes, turning the ball over at an alarming 17.7 percent of their possessions (28th).
What and who to expect
Expect a heavy workload from the Raptors starting backcourt of FVV and Lowry. Each average upwards of 38 minutes per game. Siakam will see 34 minutes per game followed by a well-balanced frontcourt rotation of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol who should each play about 25-28 minutes.
OG Anunoby and Normal Powell will split reps at the 2 and 3 and new, euro-sharp-shooter Matt Thomas must be regarded as the most dangerous man beyond the perimeter.
Keys to Victory
The Magic have to be better offensively. Simple as that.
The Magic have been incredible defensively (94.9 defensive rating, 2nd) in their two-games with supernova Trae Young being the only thing keeping them from 2-0.
But they’ve been equally inept on the offensive end. They’re 28th in points per game, 30th in three-pointers made (seven) and 30th in percentage (23 percent).
They fail to move the ball (25th) and while they dominate the paint (9th), they have virtually no other means of collecting points.
Their rebounding woes have been overblown. They’re 14th in the NBA but their sluggish pace accounts for that. They’re seventh in offensive boards creating additional opportunities for themselves.
They’ve also been terrific at creating additional opportunites (3rd in steals) while limiting those to their opponents (2nd).
The Magic split the season series with this squad last season.