The Raptors certainly haven’t cruised to a 4-1 record this season, but the team has consistently found ways to win. It hasn’t been by big margins, but that doesn’t matter in the end. What does matter is that the Raptors are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference — where they are expected to finish. Of course, early records won’t define a season, but every win counts.
Tonight, the Raptors take on the Sacramento Kings, a team perennially plagued by management, coaching and personnel issues. Basically anything that can go wrong does go wrong in Sacramento, and this year looks to be no different. The Kings are 2-5 this season, and despite boasting one of the league’s best big men in DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have struggled to compete against decent opponents, let alone top teams.
Still, the Kings haven’t been kind to the Raptors in the past. Last season, despite finishing 33-49, the Kings took both games against the Raptors. For all of last year’s positive notes, the two-game series against the Kings still stands out as a regrettable chapter. Tonight, the Raptors will look to turn the page.
Here are a few key things to watch for during tonight’s contest
DeMar DeRozan is Racing for MVP
Early this season, DeRozan has been the league’s best scorer, netting over 30 points in each of the team’s first five games. He has been effortless on the court, managing a 55.1 field goal percentage, while averaging 35.8 points per game. He has done everything his team could possibly ask of him, all while avoiding three-pointers — a rare feat in today’s NBA.
Against the Kings, DeRozan will look to continue his red-hot start. And, lucky for him, it doesn’t seem like the Kings will present any significant challenge on defence. In terms of personnel, the team offers very little to fear. Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore are fine defensive options, but certainly don’t have the tools to guard DeRozan at his best. Of course, he will eventually slow down and have a bad shooting night, but this doesn’t have to be that night.
DeMarcus Cousins vs. Everybody
DeMarcus Cousins is a very good player on a very bad team. This has been well documented, but in spite of his situation, he continues to battle on the court. This season, he has averaged 27.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. The guy is an absolute beast, so the Raptors big men will have to come ready.
This year, centre Jonas Valanciunas has shown some legitimate defensive chops. During Friday’s win against the Miami Heat, he didn’t seem physically outmatched by Hassan Whiteside — though he was out-worked — which bodes well for his chances against other great centres. Tonight’s game will be JV’s biggest test so far, competing against a centre who is both athletic and crafty. For rookie Jakob Poeltl, the goal will just be to keep up.
The Year of the Ross
I don’t want to sound any alarms yet, but Terrence Ross may have finally found himself. Yes, everyone’s favourite athletic under-achiever may be a real asset this season, blooming before our eyes. Early on, he has averaged 9.2 points per game, which might not seem impressive, but consider that he has shot 52.9 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from beyond the arc. Then, factor in his PER of 23.8, double last season’s 11.9.
It’s hard to trust Ross, because he has disappointed us in the past. Every year, he flashes signs of brilliance, but fails to follow up. He has all of the physical tools to be a top-notch 3-and-D player, but he has yet to follow through for any considerable stretch of time. A solid performance against the Kings would be another step towards raising his reputation in the NBA.
Where to watch: 6 PM, Sportsnet One