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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Toronto Raptors

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Put on your ten-gallon hat and shine your boots -- it's that time of the year again. This season, the Spurs begin their annual Rodeo Road Trip north of the border, as Gregg Popovich eyes win number 1,000 for his storied career against a strong Raptors team.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio SpursToronto Raptors

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, CA
February 8, 2015, 6:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI

Half the boys you've seen training will die north of the Wall. Might be a wildling's axe that gets them. Might be sickness. Might just be the cold. They die in pain... and they do it so plump little lords like you can enjoy their summer afternoons in peace and comfort. - Benjen Stark

In some ways, the sentiment reflected in that quote from Game of Thrones could just as easily be attributed to a Raps fan speaking to a Spurs fan. Basketball in the state of Texas has often continued into the temperate months of May and June, while north of the wall border attention inevitably turns elsewhere. Despite a few postseason appearances (most recently being last year's first-round loss to the Nets) it's been a long winter, devoid of real success, for this team. But all that seems poised to change.

Whether it be through the exit of Rudy Gay or the grace of former child actor Drake, the Raptors are now a legitimate contender to make it out of the Eastern Conference. They're a deep, versatile bunch that's grown comfortable playing together and, after tasting bitter defeat last postseason, appear ready to make a stronger playoff push.

The leader of the team is first-time All Star Kyle Lowry. With a combination of bounce and strength, the Toronto point guard is excellent at creating and improvising during possessions. He loves putting the ball on the floor and getting to the hoop, but he's not scared of pulling up from 28 feet out if given a sliver of daylight.

The Raptors also have two talented wings in DeMar Derozan and Terrence Ross who will pose matchup problems for anyone not named Danny or Kawhi. Any time the aforementioned Spurs aren't on the floor (and less so when they are in the game), either one of those two is capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

Power forward Amir Johnson isn't quick or physically dominant, but he manages to take advantage of defenses that aren't fully locked in. The Raps don't draw many plays for him, but the buckets he scores from running the floor or popping out off pick-and-rolls are enough to make a difference in any contest. Tiago Splitter should see a good amount of time against Johnson, and I think he'll do enough to limit his understated impact.

Starting center Jonas Valanciunas is developing well in his third year, but coach Dwayne Casey has often kept him on the bench in the end of games (he's completely sat out the fourth in almost a third of his appearances this year), opting for small-ball lineups anchored by Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson that allow his defense to better contest three-point shooters on screen-and-rolls. It's not dissimilar to how Pop's traditionally finished games with sixth man Manu, but it represents a much bigger shift in playing style through the course of a game. The strategy worked in Toronto's most recent win against the Clippers, as they came back from a 15-point early deficit to blow out LA.

From here the Spurs head immediately to Indianapolis to play the Pacers on Monday night. If Toronto starts out strong, the best-case scenario quickly looks like splitting the first two games. It's a winnable game for the Good Guys, but I'm leaning towards the home team in this one.

Matchup to watch: The battle of the benches. Toronto has a solid second unit, led by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams. Williams is the type of guy who can get hot from deep and put up points in a hurry. It's not just a one-man show, though -- Terrence Ross is part of the 50-point club; Patrick Patterson is a solid two-way player, and James Johnson is very, very athletic. More worrisome is that each player represents a difficult matchup for their Spurs counterpart. If the Raptors' bench matches or outdoes San Antonio's, their odds improve.

vs.

Toronto Raptors (34-17)

San Antonio Spurs (32-18)

February 8, 2015

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, CA

6:00 PM CDT

TV: FSSW

Radio: WOAI 1200AM

Starters

Kyle Lowry

PG

Tony Parker

Greivis Vasquez

SG

Danny Green

DeMar Derozan

SF

Kawhi Leonard

Amir Johnson

PF

Tiago Splitter

Jonas Valanciunas

C

Tim Duncan


For the Raptors perspective, please visit Raptors HQ.

Game prediction: Raptors by 7.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and you can get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment: Tel: 210-444-5607 | dfarias@attcenter.com