And back out west the Raptors head. The boys start a four-game swing tonight against the Clippers at Staples Center — one they better take, because Phoenix, Denver and Utah loom to close things out and the chances of stealing a win in one of those cities are about as good as a Raptor guard checking an opposing player off the dribble. As always, the men at Raptors Republic have weighed in with an in-depth preview, which includes my NBA 2K10 simulation.
Even with their tough schedule to open the season, the Raptors have caught a share of breaks with teams missing some key players and coming off back-to-backs. The Clippers are the latest squad to face Toronto undermanned, with sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Eric Gordon (18.9 per) and 2009 top pick Blake Griffin sidelined. Renowned ugly man Chris Kaman has stepped up in Griffin’s absence (21.7 points and 9.6 boards), but he doesn’t exactly transform the Clips into a Western Conference power. They enter tonight 3-6 and coming off home losses to New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
As usual, the key for the Raptors is to D up or count on the Clippers to completely disappear in the second half, as Chicago did Wednesday at the ACC (though I’d say it was a combination of both that night). With Jose Calderon starting to click, it’s time to see Hedo Turkolgu step up and flash some of those late-game heroics that made him such a hot commodity this summer. That, and maybe a little production from Jarrett Jack and the bench crew.
The Raptors and Clippers tip tonight at 10:30 EST.