The Raptors are in the midst of a gruelling 5-game road-trip that sees them fly from Toronto to Denver to Sacramento to Los Angeles to Houston to Milwaukee before they get another home date. Oh, and that stretch was preceded by a road-home back to back against Cleveland and Golden State, respectively. So all things considered, Friday night’s overtime win in Denver against the Nuggets was massive in stopping a 2-game skid that had the potential to be a lot worse.
The Kings come into this game sitting 4-9, likely to miss the playoffs again, and with stories like this starting to brew once more. It is not even December yet, and the DeMarcus Cousins trade whispers are already beginning in fan circles league-wide.
As we’ve seen first-hand though, the Kings are a frisky and talented, if volatile, team. Even though they come into this game on a 4-game losing streak, they’ve lost those games by 23 points combined. They went down to the wire with three playoff teams in the Clippers, Spurs and Blazers. The Raptors have had enough trouble with Sacramento over the years to take this game for granted based on how it should play out on paper.
Here are three things to watch
Jonas Valanciunas vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Valanciunas missed the previous matchup with the Kings due to a knee contusion, but Jakob Poeltl and Bebe Nogueira did an admirable job in containing DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins shot 7-21 on the night and the length of Bebe, in particular, bothered him all night.
However, Valanciunas was a glaring absence for the Raptors on the other end of the court, and no game better encapsulates his value on offence than the last game between these two teams. The Raptors were ice cold from beyond the arc (7-30), and Lowry and DeRozan shot a combined 12-36. Without the reliable, efficient, low-block prowess that Valanciunas provides, the Kings were free to dare the Raptors to turn their fortunes around from the outside without reproach.
It didn’t happen for the Raptors that night, and the Valanciunas - Cousins matchup will one to watch to see if anything changes.
Also there’s this:
Patrick Patterson is in an ice age
Patrick Patterson has one job on offence. I don’t mean to undersell Patterson’s value and importance to the Raptors. He’s their only reliable PF option, he’s become an ultra versatile player, and when his shot is falling, he adds a new dimension to the Raptors’ offence. But that is becoming a major issue now.
Patrick Patterson is shooting 25.8% on his 2.8 wide open 3s (def 6+ ft away)— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) November 19, 2016
DeRozan and Lowry’s ability to force defences to crowd the paint to stop them has the potential to create lethal open opportunities for any shooters around them. Patterson has been the beneficiary of this in the past, just like Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll are right now.
The Raptors don’t ask Patterson to do much on offence. Just set screens, and hit some open jumpers that inevitably come your way. When he’s this cold, it sometimes feels like the Raptors are playing 4 on 5. Seeing as how he’s shooting 29% from the field, 21% from 3, and a poor shooting night was to blame for the Raptors’ last loss to the Kings, now would be as good a time as any to start getting those percentages to creep upwards.
Can DeRozan stay hot?
Twelve games into the season, DeMar DeRozan is still averaging 33 points per game. He’s taking a ton of shots per game (7 more than last year), but some of that is due to the Raptors recognizing just how money his midrange is for now.
Eventually his numbers (and probably unsustainable efficiency) should come back down, and it remains to be seen how the Raptors adjust their offence when they can no longer justify letting him work with a 38% usage rate. Does Lowry take the reins? Does Valanciunas become more of a focal point? Will the Raptors just struggle?
The answer to those questions is coming soon, but for the sake of simplicity, just stay hot DeMar.
Where to watch: 9 PM EST, Sportsnet One