With their comfortable 98-85 triumph over the Orlando Magic, the Toronto Raptors (24-21) ensured that they are heading into a tough Western swing in good shape. How good? The club is three games over .500 for the first time this season.
Wednesday's victory over the Magic followed the script of many that preceded it. The Raps went to the three ball early and often, knocking down their first nine three-pointers and 11 of 14 treys in the first half, alone. They were also active on the glass, out-rebounding Orlando 54-39, and more active as play-makers, recording 26 assists to 17 for the visitors.
Individually, Kyle Lowry (35 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds) once again set the tone for Toronto with a well-rounded, stat-filling effort. He, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas formed the core of the Raps' attack in what turned out to be a comfortable 98-83 win.
Its no coincidence that the biggest contributors to Wednesday night's win offered multi-faceted production. During a game in which Toronto outplayed Orlando across a number of categories, all of Lowry, Johnson and Valanciunas stood out for different reasons. Lowry led the club in points and assists, making one last (unsuccessful) push for an All-Star roster spot. Johnson rebounded both figuratively and literally, pouring in 22 points and 11 rebounds (and finishing with a game-best +22) for what was his best performance of a less-than-stellar 2014 thus far. Valanciunas, meanwhile, added 15 rebounds to his 14 points for what is becoming a routine double-double effort (he has recorded three straight double-doubles and four in his past five games).
Vasquez In, Novak Out
Hopefully, the question of who will start alongside Lowry for the Raps will be moot as early as tonight in Denver. If, however, DeMar DeRozan misses his third straight game (which I expect him to, if only as a precaution), the club can gain some measure of satisfaction in knowing that the starting back court of Lowry and Greivis Vasquez proved effective against the Magic. With two ball handlers on the floor, Orlando guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo were handed some awfully tricky defensive assignments. The presence of Vasquez not only helped get Lowry some open looks off the ball, but it also sparked Johnson's production.
The Pizza Saga Returns
Those who weren't heading to the exits in the dying moments of Wednesday's game seemed to be focused on one singular thing: the free pizza they'd be afforded of the Raptors had reached tripe digits in scoring. Sure enough, three trips down the floor failed to yield the requisite two final points. And so, the mass reaction in the waning seconds of another solid home win was boos and grumbles. For a city that prides itself on being basketball-savvy, the pizza stuff is pretty embarrassing.
Recognizing the Chinese New Year with a cultural performance at halftime and some NBA-branded plush horse giveaways was a nice touch, if a little corporate brand-minded. But seeing a Chinese dragon traipsing around on the court as players awkwardly waited to get going on halftime warm-ups? Definitely fits under "The Random".
Rob Hennigan's rebuild in Orlando looks like a long-term one. A look at the roster as its currently constructed doesn't simply raise questions of current talent level, but of future ceiling as well. There are some decent pieces here, namely Tobias Harris, Moe Harkless and Victor Oladipo, one of the season's few rookies to offer signs of potential (Andrew Nicholson appears to have regressed in his sophomore season). But that group is hardly rife with top line, star-calbre talent. It will be interesting to see what the highly regarded Hennigan produces once its time for action.
Tonight, the Raptors kick off a tough Western swing with a trip to Colorado to take on the Nuggets, marking the first time GM Masai Ujiri's new team has visited his old one (9:00pm, SN1).