Rap­tors out to end skid

Toronto hasn’t beaten Golden State since 2014

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - CUR­TIS WITHERS

TORONTO — The Toronto Rap­tors have staked their claim as a favourite to come out of the East­ern Con­fer­ence with a su­perb start to the NBA sea­son.

As good as they’ve been, they’re about to get a test of whether or not they can hang with the best in the league.

The Rap­tors will take a leaguebest 18-4 record into Sco­tia­bank Arena on Thurs­day for an an­tic­i­pated matchup with the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Golden State War­riors.

The Rap­tors have been good in pre­vi­ous reg­u­lar sea­sons, but the play of star for­ward Kawhi Leonard and guard Kyle Lowry and the depth of qual­ity on the ros­ter sug­gests this is a team built for the play­offs.

And while the Rap­tors have looked steady so far this sea­son, the War­riors have looked vul­ner­a­ble at times thanks to key in­juries and un­char­ac­ter­is­tic in­fight­ing.

The War­riors, though, have won three of the last four NBA ti­tles, still have one of the best records in the Western Con­fer­ence at 15-7 and haven’t lost a game to the Rap­tors in years.

Here’s how Toronto stacks up against the de­fend­ing champs:

Star power

The War­riors clearly have the edge in su­per­star mojo with an en­vi­able wealth of big-name play­ers on their ros­ter. Steph Curry is a two-time NBA most valu­able player, while Kevin Durant, a league MVP in 2014 be­fore join­ing the War­riors, was named the Fi­nals MVP in each of the last two post­sea­sons. Dray­mond Green is the 2017 de­fen­sive player of the year. Klay Thomp­son is a four-time all­star who com­bines with Curry to form one of the league’s most for­mi­da­ble back­courts. Golden State’s em­bar­rass­ment of riches is set to grow in about a month, when four-time all-star big man De­Mar­cus Cousins ex­pects to re­turn from surgery to re­pair a torn left Achilles ten­don.

In Toronto, Kawhi Leonard is a two-time de­fen­sive player of the year and the 2014 Fi­nals MVP, and Kyle Lowry is a four-time all-star. But oth­er­wise the Rap­tors rely on ef­fec­tive ro­ta­tion play­ers such as Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pas­cal Si­akam rather than su­per­star con­tri­bu­tions.

Deep end

While the Rap­tors can’t com­pete with the War­riors on sheer mar­quee tal­ent, they may have the edge in depth. Toronto boasts long, ath­letic wings that can de­fend and score in Anunoby and Si­akam. Ibaka and Valan­ci­u­nas are com­bin­ing to give Toronto elite-level pro­duc­tion at cen­tre. VanVleet pro­vides a starter-cal­i­bre op­tion off the bench at point guard. In Toronto’s 122-114 come­back win at Mem­phis on Tues­day, Lowry was the only Rap­tor to score 20 or more points, but five of his team­mates reached dou­ble fig­ures.

While Golden State has no short­age of weapons at its dis­posal, it’s a thin­ner team on the bench than Toronto. Out­side of de­pend­able big Kevon Looney, it’s some­what of an in­con­sis­tent group that needs to patch holes through play­ers like Al­fonso McKin­nie, who couldn’t re­li­ably find a place in the Rap­tors’ lineup last sea­son. The thin bench was ex­posed when the War­riors lost four games in a row ear­lier this month with Curry and Green bat­tling in­juries, and Golden State’s three wins since have largely come on the backs of huge ef­forts from Durant and Thomp­son.

Dino hun­ters

The War­riors have owned the head-to-head se­ries with the Rap­tors lately. Golden State has won eight in a row against Toronto, with the Rap­tors’ last win com­ing at home on March 2, 2014. But the Rap­tors have given the War­riors a scare in re­cent meet­ings. Toronto lost by just two points the last time the teams squared off, fall­ing 127-125 in a Jan. 13 game at what was then the Air Canada Cen­tre. In fact, five of the Rap­tors’ last six de­feats to the War­riors have been by six points or fewer.

In­side the num­bers

Both teams know how to score with vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal of­fen­sive rat­ings. Toronto has the slight edge at 114.3 points scored per 100 pos­ses­sions, with the War­riors at 114.2. Only the Mil­wau­kee Bucks are more po­tent at 115.6. The Rap­tors have a sta­tis­ti­cally bet­ter de­fence than Golden State at 106 points al­lowed per op­po­nent’s 100 pos­ses­sions, good for sev­enth in the league. Golden State is 18th with a de­fen­sive rat­ing of 109.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES Rap­tors guard Kyle Lowry is one, along with Kawhi Leonard, of two true stars on the Toronto ros­ter. The Rap­tors, with the best record in the NBA, are set to face off against the star-laden two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Golden State

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