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Dave Feschuk: The Raptors arrive fashionably late to the NBA blowout party

Dave Feschuk: The Raptors arrive fashionably late to the NBA blowout party
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Pascal Siakam still looks like a confidence-shaken shadow of his all-NBA self. The Raptors are 1-6 against teams .500 or better. If a franchise can’t believe in its presumptive best player, and if it can’t compete against the league’s top teams, it’s only fair to question the product.

Still, recent results have been mildly encouraging. The Raptors have won four of their last five games. A little more than a week removed from co-occupying the league’s basement with the Detroit Pistons, Toronto’s NBAers found themselves a game out of eighth place in the East heading into Saturday’s slate of action.

What’s also promising is this: The Raptors have lately been finding a way to win games in a prevailing style of the time — that is, in 20-point blowouts.

Both of Toronto’s most recent wins have come in that fashion, including Friday’s 101-81 victory over the Heat and Monday’s 116-93 win over the Mavericks. Those convincing victories put Toronto in step with a current trend.

A month into the season, after all, the league is on pace to set an all-time record for such lopsidedness. Heading into Saturday, a whopping 21 per cent of NBA games had been decided by 20 or more points. According to research by Randy Robles of the Elias Sports Bureau, the previous high-water mark was 20 per cent in 1971-72. Last season, 17 per cent of games were decided by margins of 20 or more. Ten years ago, that number came in at a mere 12 per cent.

“In the NBA if you don’t come out and play, you’re going to get beat. Happens all over the league,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after Friday’s win. “You can throw records out the window a lot.”

This season, there’s a better than usual chance you’re going to get beat badly. According to Elias, this season’s average margin of victory is 12.1 points — on pace to be second-biggest in league history.

“This is going to be the craziest NBA season ever,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash told reporters a while back. “We’ve already seen some incredible scores and oddities.”

Blowouts are no doubt helped along, too, by the ongoing rise of three-point shooting. The league is on pace for an all-time record for three-pointers made per game for the ninth straight season. Twenty years ago, teams made an average of 4.8 three-balls a night. Heading into Saturday’s games they were making 12.8 a night.

And then there are the hard-to-quantify effects of teams playing in largely empty arenas.

“I think the lack of fans, you don’t have that energy boost when a team does get behind to pick you up, or even opposing fans to pick you up, so to speak,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey told reporters earlier this month. “There’s a lot of different things going on, and I think it will even itself out. But it’s totally unusual, the number of blowouts to start the season.”

Said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet: “It’s a game of runs, and I think the momentum is so much different now with being in a big arena with no crowds and some of that stuff. It’s just a different game and a different feel to it.”

For the Raptors, who play back-to-back games in Indiana on Sunday and Monday, adding to their blowout tally against the Pacers could prove difficult. Kyle Lowry, who missed Friday’s game with what Nurse described as a toe infection, is expected to return to the lineup. But the Pacers, who came into Saturday tied with Milwaukee for the second-best record in the East at 9-6, are off to a solid start.

And there are those among the Toronto contingent who are happy to see Indiana’s rookie head coach Nate Bjorkgren having some early success. Bjorkgren, of course, is a long-time Nurse protege who spent the previous two seasons as a Toronto assistant. VanVleet calls him “one of the best coaches I’ve been around in my short life — and he’s an even better person.”

“If you don’t like Nate, you’re crazy. There’s something wrong with you,” VanVleet was saying this past week. “I’m glad that he’s been doing well.”
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