After a stinging overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that ended a seven-game winning streak, the Raptors (42-17) took out their frustrations by flattening the Detroit Pistons 123-94 on Monday night. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry scored 20 points apiece and Serge Ibaka added 19 as Toronto drilled 17 3-pointers and outscored Detroit 64-41 in the final two quarters.
Toronto have shot 36.8 percent or better from 3-point range in seven of their last nine games, making an average of 14.3 3-pointers in that span. The Raptors have averaged 117.1 points during this stretch, shooting 49.1 percent overall. Toronto lead Boston by one-half game for both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead.
Orlando (18-42) are at the other end of the standings, with only Atlanta between them and the cellar of the Eastern Conference. The Magic are mired in their fourth losing streak of at least six games this season, hitting that mark again following Monday night’s 112-105 defeat at Oklahoma City.
Jonathan Simmons and Evan Fournier each scored 19 points as Orlando’s starting five accounted for 81 points, but the reserves were outscored 48-24. The Magic have shot an impressive 42.1 percent from 3-point range in their last four games, but their lack of defense all season continues to undermine them. Orlando have yielded an average of 111.3 points on this current skid, getting outscored 106-81 in points off turnovers.
Three keys to the game
Lights-out Lowry - Remember earlier this season when everyone was wondering when Lowry would snap out of his perimeter shooting funk? Those struggles are long gone as the All-Star guard has been on an extended torrid run. He hit six of eight from beyond the arc Monday night and has connected at a 43.8 percent clip in Toronto's last nine games to raise his season mark to 39.4 percent.
Magic's second unit needs to step up - After being doubled up by Oklahoma City's reserves, Orlando's bench mob will get no quarter from Toronto's reserves, who are arguably the best in the league and enter this game seventh in the league in scoring at 40.9 points per game. The Magic, meanwhile, are 19th at 34.0 points per contest. In the teams' last six games, that difference is more pronounced as Toronto are averaging an NBA-best 49.2 points while Orlando are 20th at 32.5 per contest.
Lack of crunch time a slight concern for Raptors - All but one of Toronto's last eight wins have come by double-digit margins, and with only two of their last ten contests decided by one possession, there is some worry for coach Dwane Casey his team isn't getting enough late-game work.
"Our issue, and I think I said it the other day, it’s hard to duplicate those end of games,” Casey told The Star. “We try (in practice). We put score disadvantage, time disadvantage on guys, put them in tough situations. It’s even tougher in practice ’cause guys know what’s coming.”
Matchup to watch
PF Serge Ibaka vs PF Aaron Gordon - Lost in the effectiveness of Lowry and DeRozan, Ibaka is playing some of his best offensive basketball of the season. He has averaged 15.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in his last six games and also showing his range by knocking down 37.0 percent of his 3-pointers in that stretch.
Gordon has slowly been ramping up since missing the nine games before the All-Star break with a calf injury. He has averaged 15.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in his first three games back but has shot just 39.1 percent.
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - OG Anunoby | PF -Serge Ibaka
Orlando Magic projected starting lineup
PG - D. J. Augustin | SG - Evan Fournier | C - Nikola Vucevic | SF - Jonathan Simmons | PF - Aaron Gordon
Lowry was hit or miss in three games against Orlando last season, averaging 17.0 points, but did score 33 in one game while hitting six of nine from beyond the arc. He was held to 34 combined in the other two contests and connected on just four of 18 from 3-point range. Lowry has averaged 15.9 points and 5.9 assists in 24 games against the Magic, knocking down 37.9 percent of his long-range attempts.
DeRozan, meanwhile, has been a nightmare matchup for the Magic, averaging 28.5 points and 4.5 assists on 50 percent shooting in the last four contests between the teams. He had 36 in the last game last season, a 131-112 rout by Toronto at home, and has averaged 20.2 points in 24 lifetime matchups.
Gordon has yet to find a groove against Toronto, averaging just 5.6 points on 35.5 percent shooting in ten career games against them. He did have 16 points and a pair of steals in the most recent game, though.
Magic center Nikola Vucevic has averaged 16.3 points in three games after missing the previous 23 with a broken left hand. He has posted eight double-doubles in 19 games versus Toronto, averaging 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds overall while shooting 50.2 percent.
The line has jumped 1.5 points in Toronto's favor since its open, making the Raptors 9.5-point favorites. That is not surprising given the Raptors have taken care of business against the league's lightweights, covering in their last seven games versus teams with a sub-.400 winning percentage and their last six against opponents who have a straight up losing record.
Toronto have covered in seven of their last nine overall and are 5-2 against the spread in their last seven outings against conference rivals. If there is one area of concern, it is that the Raptors have covered just once in their last five trips to Orlando and twice in the last eight meetings between the teams.
Orlando have been a good play for bettors, covering in 11 of their last 15 games versus Eastern Conference teams and in 14 of their last 19 overall. The Magic also are 11-3 against the spread in their last 14 against teams with a winning record and 9-4 against the spread in their previous 13 games following a win against the number.
The over/under has dipped 1.5 points to 219 since its open at 220.5, and the over has been a strong play with Toronto of late. The over is 12-2 in their last 14 road games and 4-0-1 in the Raptors' last five overall. The over is also 11-5-1 in Orlando's last 17 contests against Atlantic Division teams but the under has come through 12 times in the Magic's last 17 at home.
This is the time of year when better teams dispose of lesser teams, and this should be no different for the Raptors, who have shown no letup from the strong play they rode into the All-Star break. Lowry and DeRozan have been playing at near-peak efficiency, and Toronto's bench has almost always picked up the slack in those rare moments when the starting five struggle.
The Raptors are catching the Magic at a perfect time, starting a two-game road swing after a day off and facing an Orlando team again struggling. To be blunt, the Magic are a mentally fragile team, and when it goes sideways offensively, it quickly snowballs to the defensive side.
If Toronto starts this game hot on the perimeter, it could be over quickly and result in another short night for the starters in which they watch the fourth quarter from the bench. That likely won't be the case, but the Raptors should have more than enough for a 117-104 victory.
The game will be televised nationally in Canada on TSN and locally on Fox Sports Florida. Tip-off time is 7 pm EST.
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