The Toronto Raptors commence their Florida tour in Orlando against the rebuilding Magic. While the Raps are confirmed for the post-season, this is not the time for a letdown. The Atlantic Division title is theirs if they keep winning, meaning home court advantage in the first playoff round, at least. Victories won’t be easy next week, as the Raps face the HEAT, Rockets and Pacers; those 3 teams have a combined record of 150-65, so losing all 3 games would hardly constitute a surprise. The Raps need to take care of business tonight.
Orlando’s roster is filled with kids who are learning on the job, sprinkled with veterans to keep games close. Arron Afflalo, their seventh-year starting shooting guard, tops their scoring list with almost 20 Points Per Game [PPG]. While Afflalo is adept at using his quickness to create his own shot, he’s not likely to “go off” for a big number. I expect Terrence Ross will be asked to keep him under wraps. Jameer Nelson completes the veteran backcourt. Kyle Lowry will keep a hand in his face, because Jameer doesn’t need much room or time to launch his frequently accurate 3-ball. He leads the Magic in assists, as befits the point guard. At centre, Nikola Vucevic averages double figure in points and rebounds, but doesn’t offer the rim protection the Magic needs to pull itself out of the doldrums. Kyle O’Quinn wouldn’t get much time anywhere else but Orlando. He may develop into a competent power forward, but is several seasons away. If it were my team, I’d take my chances with Andrew Nicholson. Maurice Harkless may have the highest ceiling on the squad. DeMar DeRozan’s limited defensive skills will be challenged.
Tobias Harris shows signs of becoming a quality all-purpose swingman off the bench. He’s been criticized as unathletic, but he gets open and makes his shots. Victor Oladipo, Orlando’s prized rookie, averages 14 PPG and healthy assist numbers. While Michael Carter-Williams of the atrocious 76ers will likely win the Rookie of the Year award, Victor would be my selection. He’s fast, plays with an edge, and isn’t afraid to risky moves or shots. I’d rather have a guy like that than someone bashful.
This game will be the seventh straight win for the Raps over the Magic if our guys:
- stay in the moment. I realize that’s not a tactic, which is what I like to concentrate on this section. However, a team’s mental approach is important. The Raps cannot look ahead to the HEAT game, or think Orlando is quaking in their boots at the thought of playing mighty Toronto. The Magic just roared back for an OT win over Charlotte, in which Vucevic had 24 points and 23(!) rebounds.
- get Jonas Valanciunas his touches. Soon enough he’ll have to face the Rockets’ Dwight Howard and Pacers’ Roy Hibbert. On this night, he’s facing a centre he can exploit.
- bring back the 3-ball. Ross and Lowry made 1 of 11 against the Celtics. Keep firing away.
While there’s brave talk of seeing the return of Patrick Patterson (and I hope we do), he shouldn’t be necessary for the Raps to craft a 106-96 win.