Toronto Raptors (-3, 195.5) at Orlando Magic
The NBA makes its yearly return across the pond with perhaps the most intriguing matchup they’ve offered British fans to date. The Toronto Raptors (24-15, 21-17-1 ATS), barely holding on to second in the East, will “visit” the upstart Orlando Magic (20-18, 22-15-1 ATS) for a Thursday matinee at The O2 Arena in London (3:00 PM Eastern).
Currently, the Magic sit just 3.5-games back of the Raptors, but that’s only good enough for eighth in what has turned into a shockingly tight Eastern Conference. Since the NBA started sending games to England back in 2010-11, it has always focused on East coast matchups; but for the first time in a long while, that is the far more interesting conference.
The Raptors have been to London once before, losing a pair of games to the then-New Jersey Nets in the first-ever games in England. However, DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson are the only remaining pieces from that trip. Both figure to be big parts of this week’s game: DeRozan has since transformed into a leader for Toronto along with Kyle Lowry, while Johnson is seeing an expanded role after the Raps lockdown defender Demarre Carroll was lost for six to eight weeks.
Orlando is one of the NBA’s most promising young teams and figure to be contenders in a few years. But they appear ahead of schedule after ending 2015 fifth in the East with a 19-13 record. The new year has brought turmoil, though, as the Magic have now lost five of their last six.
The first meeting between these teams went the Magic’s way, as the home team eked out a 92-87 win to hand the Raptors their first loss of the season. Toronto shot a dismal 21-percent from three in that game.
In the rematch, the Magic will have to be careful on D. Toronto is one of the best teams in the league at getting to the line, averaging almost 26 free-throw attempts a game. In the first game, Orlando’s leading scorer Nikola Vucevic wasn’t available due to injury, and his replacement ended up fouling out. If Vucevic finds himself in early foul trouble, Orlando’s offense will slow down for sure.
The Raptors are the hotter team heading into this one, winners of three straight. They’re also 13-8-1 for betting purposes on the road. Given that they have a few players who have done the whole “London thing” before, I like the Raps come home with a nice souvenir: a win.
Pick: Raptors (-3).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].)