Believe in the Rise of the Raptors

Basketball Aug 11, 2020

In these Bubble-licious times, much is different than we anticipated

Some things never change.

Like Dion Waiters' belief -- even after hitting the side of the backboard with a shot -- still being stronger than your doubt.

But in these Bubble-licious times, much is different than we anticipated.  We should be used to odd circumstances by now -- after all, who knew we would have a reality TV star overriding the science-based recommendations of one of the most decorated infectious disease specialists on the planet?  Or that pizza delivery drivers would become essential workers?  Or that the Miami Marlins would be in first place in baseball's National League East on August 6 after playing just six games?

Here are three NBA trends we didn't see coming, and how seriously you should take them:

"Cash Considerations" Cashing In

Yes, cash considerations. That's what the Phoenix Suns got for forward TJ Warren and a second-round pick on NBA Draft night. Warren, best known previously for getting the finger and getting called "trash" and "soft" and "not on my f---- level" by the Heat's Jimmy Butler. Warren has been above everyone level's in Orlando, averaging 39.7 points in three games, all Indiana Pacers wins.

Will it continue? Well, not to this degree, since a run like this would rank with anything Michael Jordan ever did -to anyone other than LaBradford Smith. But, while few noticed, Warren was shooting 61 percent in February and 51 percent in March, while averaging 19.9 points per game. So he's good.

The Betting Edge: Do you trust Indiana in the playoffs? That depends on Domantas Sabonis and Vic Oladipo more than Warren. If the Pacers keep winning, they'll likely finish 4th or 5th in the East, especially since they have two regular Bubble games left with the Heat. Then they'll likely face the Heat. And, the Butler-Warren intrigue aside, the Pacers aren't beating the Heat unless they can throw more at Bam Adebayo than just Myles Turner up front and can exploit the Heat's point of attack defensive issues with Oladipo. Will Sabonis (foot) come back? Will Oladipo (knee) round into form? If not, the Pacers are still a first round exit.

Raptors for Real

They're taking this Lockdown in the Bubble seriously, eh? First in defense through three games with a ridiculous 96.1 rating. Small sample size? Sure. But there's no reason it can't continue. The Raptors are quick, long, switchy and deep, and they did a number on the Heat's offense Monday, frustrating sniper Duncan Robinson off the floor. This has been the NBA's best team since February 15.

Will it continue? Why wouldn't it? Toronto is fully healthy for the first time all season and has developed a game independent of Kawhi Leonard. Nick Nurse has already proven to be an elite coach. Plus, Kyle Lowry is good for a final minute flop that seals the deal.

The Betting Edge: Keep picking the Raptors until other bettors catch on. News seems to travel slow to the States for some reason (we are dismantling the federal post office here, after all), and even with a few NBA analysts catching on, it's not like anyone really listens to Kendrick Perkins.

Lakers Clankers

They're first in the West for sure, having clinched that already, even with LeBron James somehow characterizing that as some sort of unexpected achievement. Anthony Davis is taking the leap after the leap after the leap, establishing himself as a top-5 player until his bad luck forces him to fracture an orbital bone, and LeBron -- while disconnected at times so far -- should pick up his play when it matters. But here's the thing: beyond them, this team just isn't that good offensively, and it's mostly reflected in their shooting. Even with Rajon Rondo absent for now (which is for the best), the Lakers are making just 25 percent of their three point shots in the Bubble regular season games, and it's hard to see how that gets much better. That's the reason they were dead last in offensive rating in the Bubble through four games, at 96.6, which is what TJ Warren now scores for Indiana in a quarter.

Will it last? Well, this is almost impossible to predict, since you're counting on the likes of the aforementioned erratic Waiters, TMZ Kyle Kuzma and the always amusing JR Smith. (And what happened to Danny Green?). The question is how much it matters if the Lakers defend as they can, even without Avery Bradley, and Davis and James play to their potential together.

The Betting Edge: It's difficult to trade 2's for 3's all game. If the Lakers draw Portland in the first round, they're unlikely to lose, but the Blazers might be worth a play on the points a couple of times, with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum likely to do damage.

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Headline Photo Credit:  USA Today

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Special correspondent and contributor and guest sports handicapper provides the latest news and information you can use to make your daily picks.