After an unsuccessful homestand, it’s going to be a gut-check kind of week for the Raptors on the West Coast.
The Raptors did themselves no favours by going 1-3 during their season-long run of four straight home games. Their latest defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Sunday dropped them to 6-10 on the campaign and signs of frustration are starting to show during the team’s current three-game losing streak.
Improbably, the Raptors still lead the Atlantic Division. But that’s going to be tested against a trio of Pacific Division teams that should pose a serious challenge. Here’s what’s on tap this week.
Tuesday @ Golden State Warriors: Don’t let the Warriors’ 10-8 record fool you. Near .500 in the West means absolutely nowhere near the same thing as in the East this season. Golden State has looked like one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference and they’ve absolutely dominated this matchup over the years with 10 wins in the last 12 meetings and eight straight in Oakland.
The Warriors have currently dropped five of seven, but six of those games have been away from Oracle Arena and all of them have been against Western opponents. The have played 10 of their first 18 on the road and have faced just two Eastern teams thus far, whipping the Sixers and Pistons by an average of 19 points.
The duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have to be of particular concern for Toronto with a combined average of 43.5 points per game this season. In the Warriors’ win over the Kings in Sacramento on Sunday, the Splash Brothers outscored their backcourt counterparts 64-10.
Curry posted 36 points and 10 assists in that win and it’s going to be a challenge trying to keep the Raptor killer in check. He’s averaged 27.3 points and 8.5 assists per game against Toronto, his best numbers against any other NBA team.
Friday @ Phoenix Suns: The Purple Palace had long been a house of horrors for the Raptors, but it’s been somewhat of an oasis of late with wins in their last two visits. To put that in perspective, New Orleans is the only other Western Conference stop where the Raptors have a winning streak intact with two straight W’s.
Last season’s Suns were clearly a team in transition post-Steve Nash and that was widely considered to be the expectation for 2013-14. But these Suns don’t seem all that intent on sticking to that script, as they’ve showed resiliency in compiling a winning record through 17 games.
A large reason for the Suns’ success is on the fast break, where they average a league-best 20.4 points per game. Over 20 per cent of the Suns’ scoring comes on the fast break — also tops in the league.
But Phoenix has also displayed a commitment to defence in the early part of this season. They sit 13th in defensive rating at 101.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, a drastic improvement from their 24th ranking in that category just a season ago.
This might be the Raptors’ best opportunity for a win on this trip, but Goran Dragic, Eric Bledose and company will be more than willing to take advantage should the Raptors scuffle into the desert.
Sunday @ LA Lakers: We could talk about how the shorthanded Lakers have stayed afloat admirably in the Pacific, with offensive and defensive ratings that rank them middle of the NBA pack. The Raptors should certainly be wary of LA’s depth (they lead the league in bench scoring as of this post), particularly after the Nuggets’ reserves torched them for 72 points on Sunday. The Lakers have also fared pretty well against the Eastern Conference so far with a 3-1 mark this season.
But those plot lines all take a back seat if Kobe Bryant is ready to make his return.
The five-time NBA champion reportedly could rejoin the Lakers lineup Friday in Sacramento following his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in April.
That would mean his season debut at Staples Center would come against the Raptors on Sunday and needless to say, the addition of a player who’s averaged 28.3 points per game on roughly 48 per cent shooting for his career against them might affect the Toronto game plan somewhat.
The Kobe’s Greatest Hits package against the Raptors warrants another entire sub section of this blog, but you don’t have to go back too far to see him haunt this team.
We’ll have coverage every step of the way here on Raptors.com, so be sure to check back for updates.