Among the many curious bits of trivia through 30 games of the Toronto Raptors’ (18-12) season thus far, there’s this: their 8-7 record against the Western Conference has come thanks to a 5-2 record against Western opponents above .500 balanced out by just a 3-5 mark against sub-.500 West teams. Then again, curious serves as a pretty good descriptor of Tuesday night’s 103-99 home win over the Dallas Mavericks.
A streaky game that saw one side make at least a 7-0 charge on seven different occasions ended with the Raps holding on against a random collection of Mavericks that hardly seemed like the ideal crunch time lineup for a Western contender. Riding a unit of Charlie Villanueva, JJ Barea, Jeremy Evans, Justin Anderson and John Jenkins, the Mavs actually managed to cut what had been a 16-point edge mid-way through the fourth down to a two-point difference. However, facing a heavy full court press by Dallas, Kyle Lowry found an opening to hustle the ball over mid-court and turned a near-turnover into an easy fast break layup for DeMar DeRozan at the other end before two Terrence Ross free throws iced the win.
Who knows if the result would have held up had Toronto been forced to contend with Dallas regulars like leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki (team-high 20 points), Wes Matthews, Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams, all of whom who had played earlier but were oddly left out of Rick Carlisle’s fourth quarter rotation. Strange personnel choices also carried over to the home side, where James Johnson’s left ankle sprain helped explain Anthony Bennett playing nearly 10 overmatched minutes but didn’t make Delon Wright’s seven minutes of scoreless basketball any easier to understand.
How hot has DeMar DeRozan been of late? He was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for a productive four-game stretch in which he averaged 24 points per game – and then has gotten more dangerous since. After posting 28 points on 10-17 shooting against Dallas, DeRozan has now scored an average of 29.25 points per game over his last four contests.
Biz on the boards
In a league with teams as structured and system-based as the current NBA, rebounding numbers are rarely as disparate as the Raptors’ 53-34 advantage on the boards on Tuesday night. Lowry’s 10 rebounds and Luis Scola’s nine boards certainly helped, but it goes without saying that there was no bigger factor that Bismack Biyombo, who put forth a yeoman’s effort that included 20 rebounds, with seven coming on the offensive glass. Consider that there were no three – three! – Mavs whose rebounding total even matched Biyombo’s production.
I don’t mean to paint all three Canadians in Tuesday’s game with the same broad stroke here, given that Cory Joseph put forth a respectable 12 points, five assists and four boards in 26 minutes off the bench. But Bennett and Dwight Powell, the two Canuck bigs in the game, didn’t do much to excite on home soil. Bennett never seemed to get comfortable with the pace of play, appearing regularly out of place while missing wildly on two of his three trey attempts. On the visitor’s side, Powell had a chance to impress in his first ACC appearance and instead was a nearly invisible 1-3 in 15 utterly impact-less minutes.
Kudos to the Raps’ game ops department for upping their entertainment game for the last pre-holiday game night. There was a corny but amusing Steve Harvey send-up for a dance competition during a second quarter timeout and a genuinely funny holiday video package featuring the Raptor and the rest of the game ops crew dueling it out for presents under the Christmas tree. Adding to the special seasonal touches were a festively clad Dance Pak and breakdancing crew, as well as a cool and unique halftime performance by a hip hop painter.
If Johnson is out for any length of time for the Raps, it might be time to consider giving Summer League standout Ronald Roberts Jr. a shot at the NBA level. Roberts has continued to impress as part of Raptors 905, most recently stuffing the stat sheet with 21 points on 10-13 shooting to go along with 17 rebounds and four blocked shots in a 111-102 overtime loss to the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
On a recent episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast, regular guest Joe House referred to the Mavs as unkillable a la Frankenstein in touting Rick Carlisle’s credentials for Coach of the Year. While I don’t agree with the pick (I don’t care how odd the Steve Kerr / Luke Walton coaching situation is in Golden State in terms of awards, you don’t snub a 26-1 team), the sentiment certainly rings true. Where just about every other quality NBA team has explosive, game-breaking talent, Dallas continues to get it done by rolling out Nowitzki with a typically unexciting cache of vets who know their roles in the grand operation. Williams has found new life outside of Brooklyn, Javale McGee looks like a reclamation project once thought impossible and even Ray Felton is providing quality starting (???) minutes.
After a well-deserved Christmas break, Boxing Day brings a Saturday night tilt in Milwaukee (5:00pm, TSN).
Prediction: Bucks 97, Raps 91 (record this season: 14-15)