The Raptors begin 2017 against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, as they head into the final two games of their annual Christmas road trip. The run out west has so far amounted to a 2-2 record with wins against the Jazz and Blazers, and losses to the Warriors and Suns. With the Spurs looming, this game in Los Angeles represents the best chance to Toronto to keep things at least at .500.
The Lakers last saw the Raptors in Toronto back on December 2nd and, my friends, it has been downhill for them since then. The Lakers lost that one, 113-80, and then promptly went into a tailspin for the rest of the month. They won two of 16 games to close out 2016. Yikes.
So, despite some ominous concerns for the Raptors (we’ll get to that in a second), this one should be a nice bounce back game for Toronto. Here are three things to keep an eye on.
Where Art Thou, Patrick Patterson?
So, uh, this is a bit of an issue.
For all of 2016, and definitely this season, Patterson has arguably been the Raptors third most important player, behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He’s long been the only reliable power forward on the roster. And while Patterson’s three point shot (which tends to be at or above league average) comes and goes, the effect of his defense and basketball IQ are immeasurable.
There has yet to be any update (as of this writing) as to Patterson’s status following an apparent left knee strain in the game against the Phoenix Suns. Suffice to say: if Patterson misses an extended period of time (or, holy shit, needs surgery for something) the Raptors could be in some serious trouble. If I had to guess, it sounds like Patterson is definitely not going to play today — which is all the more reason for me to bring this up straight off the top. Let’s see how the Raptors adjust.
Pay It Forward
So, let’s work under the assumption Patterson will not play tonight. What does this mean for the Raptors? First and foremost, it could mean a ton more minutes for rookie Pascal Siakam. The young man from Cameroon saw his minutes spike up to 21 in the game against the Suns once Patterson had to sit. This, after Pascal’s minutes had shrunk all the way down to four to six minute range — despite still being a starter — in the last three games. Siakam chipped in four points, five rebounds, two steals, and, uh, five fouls in that time.
The other solution is to find more minutes for Norm Powell. Now, Powell obviously isn’t a power forward, but the Raptors have tooled around with lineups featuring him and some combination of Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Lowry, Cory Joseph and DeRozan. Plug in any of those six guys, put them with Lucas Nogueira or Jonas Valanciunas in the middle and the Raptors have a lineup that can tangle with this Lakers team. Is it ideal? Well, no, precisely because it is Patterson who so often acts as the glue keeping things optimal. Let’s see what happens.
Happy New Year’s Day
I don’t really have a third point to make here — convinced as I am that there’s no way Lowry lets the Raps lose three games in a row — so let’s go with a message of kindness instead. While the Raptors had a great 2016, and look to have a solid 2017 (injury to Patterson or no), not everyone had the best year.
So this is me, early in the morning on January 1st of 2017 saying: hey, let’s try to be the best people we can be personally, let’s try to be responsible and empathetic as part of the society in which we exist, let’s try to learn and get better. Caring, kindness, consideration — let’s try to figure these things out together and make it a good year for everyone.
Where to Watch: TSN2, 9:30pm