Stuck in the midst of a five-game losing streak, these aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the Raptors franchise. The team’s recent slide, however, must be jarring for fans who have become accustomed to Toronto rattling off streaks in the opposite direction. during the Masai Ujiri era.
Ten days ago, the Raptors were perched comfortably as the East’s preeminent LeBron nuisance. Going into tonight’s match-up with the 21-24 Bucks, the discourse surrounding the team has darkened.
The questions about whether or not this is the 2014-15 season all over again, the Terrence Ross slander, the fretting over Dwane Casey losing his All-Star coaching gig — a win tonight at home could pour water on it all.
A sixth-straight loss? Let’s try not to think about that prematurely.
Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s game.
Signs of Progress
Slumping teams rarely snap back to peak form in an instant. It takes time to warm up a shooting stroke. Reps are needed to coalesce upon the return of injured players.
A chart of the Raptors’ performances over the last week would show a modest spike over the last two games. Losing both halves of a back-to-back by a total of four points was bittersweet, but the baby steps towards reaching peak-Raptors were sprinkled throughout both the Spurs and Grizzlies game.
Most importantly: Kyle Lowry rediscovered his shot on Wednesday. Against Memphis, Lowry posted 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting while canning 4 threes after going just 8-of-34 from long range over the previous five games.
Patrick Patterson also returned to the lineup this week. His absence had coincided with some of the most lackluster Raptors showings of the last few years. As was detailed on the site earlier this week, Patterson’s presence oils the Raptors machine to the point of maximum efficiency. As he regains his effectiveness, so will the Raptors. Toronto is steadying the boat. And now only one obstacle remains.
With DeMar DeRozan missing the last two games, the Raptors have been forced out of the comfort zone they’ve established on offense this year. Often the second option, Lowry has been thrust into the role of number one creator. He’s completely capable of succeeding as the team’s offensive fulcrum, but the workload he has taken on — and the bumps he’s absorbed along the way — have been cringe-worthy.
This season, Lowry averages 10 drives per game. Against San Antonio and Memphis, he’ has attacked the rim a total of 28 times. That’s 4 more times per night Lowry is hunting contact, four more opportunities a game for an awkward fall to send the Raptors’ season into pointlessness. For a small stint without his backcourt partner, Lowry can probably sustain. But the longer DeRozan’s ankle keeps him sidelined, the more detrimental is could be to the Raptors’ big picture hopes in 2016-17.
It’s unclear whether or not the Raptors’ All-Star starter will be available on Friday — the Raptors initially only ruled DeRozan out for the last two games. Having him back in the fold, either tonight or in the near future, will be a critical win for the Raptors. Lowry’s workload will recess to normal levels, and the team will, for the first time all year, be completely healthy. Stay tuned closer to game time to what DeRozan’s status against the Bucks may be.
DeMar DeRozan (right ankle sprain) is out tonight vs. Milwaukee. #WeTheNorth— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) January 27, 2017
Raptors : Bucks :: Bulls : Raptors
Every team has “that one team we just can’t freaking beat.” The Raptors, of course, have been confounded by the Chicago Bulls since late 2013.
The Bucks haven’t quite reached the point of insanity when it comes to trying to top Toronto, but since an 82-75 win on February 2nd, 2015 — in the heart of the Raptors’ last significant cold stretch — Milwaukee hasn’t been able to overcome the Raptors, a drought spanning six games.
Maybe it’s because the Raptors seem to have had a disproportionate number of indomitable foes throughout their history than most other teams, but when there’s an opportunity for the them to break the spirit of an inferior opponent that just can’t crack the code, the stakes feel higher.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST