The Toronto Raptors have quietly climbed towards the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. But they could make more noise come the New Year.
With a 20-13 record in the wake of Wednesday’s win over Washington, Canada’s finest have an intriguing month ahead that will give them a chance to push the Cleveland Cavaliers to be the beast of the East.
Take out Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back with the Cavs and the Chicago Bulls and the Raps have a very solid stretch of very winnable games, starting with the visit of struggling Charlotte on New Year’s Night.
It’s defence which is keeping Toronto on track for a promising 2016. Now fourth in the NBA in points conceded per game at 96.6, a huge assist for a team that is a miserly 2-10 when giving up 100 points. And six of their 14 opponents in January fail to average three figures.
But they’re also surprisingly good offensively despite notching exactly 100 per night, sitting fourth in overall efficiency amid a pace that is among the slowest in the league, with DeMar DeRozan collecting 26.4 per game over his last 10 appearances.
The Raptors took a 104-97 win in Chicago on Monday and a similar points spread would be no shock. And with Brooklyn, Philadelphia and the Knicks on their immediate schedule, they’re sure to be worth a regular punt.
The Golden State Warriors suffered only their second loss of the season in a 114-91 loss at Dallas on Wednesday, sustained without Steph Curry.
The reigning MVP is a major doubt for Thursday’s trip to the Houston Rockets. But Golden State were hampered by a poor shooting night from all concerned, dipping under 41 per cent for only the third time.
They can, and should adjust. And with the Rockets mis-firing, back the Dubs – who routed Houston by 20 in October - to rebound with a total points tally of over 210.5.
Best bet: Go under 187.5 total points in Toronto – Charlotte