With a three-game lead on the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Raptors are all but assured of the top seed. Their record of 57-22 is the second best in the NBA.
Toronto put in one of their best defensive performance of the season on Friday, restricting Indiana to 73 points in the 19 point victory. On the offensive end, Serge Ibaka top scored with 25 points.
Orlando, in contrast, head into this game on the back of a 37 point drubbing at the hands of the Hornets. They conceded 137 points in the loss, including 43 in the first quarter.
The Magic’s 24-55 record has them sitting in 14th place in the east, and it appears they are likely to stay there. They have a 1.5 game lead over the 15th placed Hawks, who have just two games remaining in the season.
Three keys to the game
Toronto’s defense – The Raptors have been good defensively all season, ranking fifth in the league in defensive rating, but in their last two games have taken it to a new level. They have conceded 73 and 78 points in these two games and are allowing just 78.2 points per 100 possessions – 19 better than any other side during this short period.
Traveling Magic – Orlando’s performance on the road this season has been better than only the Hawks and the Grizzlies. They are 8-31 outside Orlando and are 1-9 in their last ten away games. To make matters worse, Toronto have been nearly impossible to beat in Canada this season, winning 33 of their 40 games at Air Canada Centre.
DeRozan’s shooting – DeRozan has hit a rough patch of late. He has passed the 20 point mark just once in his past six games and is averaging 17.5 points in this time. His 3-point shot, which has become at least serviceable this season, has gone missing – he has connected on just four of 17 attempts from beyond the arc during this six-game stretch.
Matchup to watch
DJ Augustin vs Kyle Lowry – Augustin is far from a superstar, but he is a journeyman who has forged what is so far a ten-year career in the NBA and has a greater role than usual on a Magic team bereft of other talent. He played well against the Hornets, putting up 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting in just 18 minutes. He will be hounded at his own offensive end of the floor against Lowry, though, and will need to be on his game defensively.
Lowry is having a rough patch, averaging just ten points in his last six games, but he is a four-time All-Star who is more than capable of swinging a game on his own. This season, he averages 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.1 steals, and is shooting 40.0% from beyond the arc.
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG – Kyle Lowry | SG – DeMar DeRozan | SF – OG Anunoby | PF – Serge Ibaka | C – Jonas Valanciunas
Orlando Magic predicted starting lineup
PG – DJ Augustin | SG – Wesley Iwundu | SF – Jamel Artis | PF – Mario Hezonja | C – Bismack Biyombo
Lowry might be having a down year by his lofty standards, but he has been fantastic in both games against Orlando. In the first, he connected on 4-for-8 3-point attempts, scored 17 points, grabbed seven boards and dished out 11 assists. In the most recent matchup, he was even better, going 7-for-13 from long range, and contributing 25 points, five rebounds, and eight assists.
The Magic have been given a huge 13.5 point head start by oddsmakers, but it is hard to see them keeping the margin below this. The Raptors have put the foot down at the defensive end of the floor to prepare for the playoffs, and against an Orlando team which would be forgiven for having clocked out for the season, expect the home side to cover this margin.
Toronto could win this game with their eyes closed, but don’t expect them to take it lightly. With just three games remaining to ready themselves for the playoffs, Dwane Casey and his side are trying to hit the ground running. Expect them to put in another big defensive effort in this game, and against a Magic side lacking talent, will be very hard to score against.
DeRozan and Lowry can’t both continue to miss shots for much longer, so expect at least one of them to jump out of their slump with a big game against a poor backcourt. Combined with excellent defense, this will lead them to a 107-87 win.
The game will be broadcast locally on Sportsnet One and FS Florida. Tip-off is at 6pm ET.
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