All is right again in the world of the Raptors. Sort of. On Friday night the team was able to finally halt a losing streak that had reached five games. Led by Kyle Lowry, as always, Toronto laid a minor smackdown on the upstart Milwaukee Bucks and calmed a nation that had gotten, in a word, panicked. Hey, that’s fair.
Now the Orlando Magic visit Toronto and there is hope that the Raptors will continue on their winning ways. The first reason for this feeling is obvious: the Magic are 18-30 on the season. The second? They still have a playing rotation that is impossible to figure out. Third: they’ve won two of their last 12 games. Folks, this is a bad team.
The reasons to care about this game then are three fold: the Raptors stand a good chance of winning, the Raptors have their own rotation issues to sort out (more on that in a bit), and we get to say hi to our old friend Bismack Biyombo (definitely more on that in a bit; love that guy).
In any case, here are three things to consider prior to game time.
The Frontcourt Situation
I point this out first because if there’s one thing the Magic do have it’s dudes in the frontcourt. This is the team that signed Biyombo after all, despite his inability to play with Nikola Vucevic (who remains on the trading block). This is the team that should be clearing minutes for Aaron Gordon, but also found some space to sign Jeff Green. All this and I haven’t even mentioned Serge Ibaka. Is there a rhyme or reason to any of this? No.
The Raptors’ big man questions aren’t as dire, but where the Magic have surplus Toronto deals in a deficit. That Vucevic and Jonas Valanciunas will end up going at each other today feels like a forgone conclusion. Biyombo will also take a turn trying to slow JV down. Patrick Patterson meanwhile is still working his way back from a strained knee and will be tasked with dealing with Ibaka, Green and possibly Gordon. It’s likely the recently renewed peg-leg play of DeMarre Carroll may get in the mix. Of course, Lucas Nogueira would be useful in covering all of these guys. Questions abound as to how they’ll all be deployed.
As of right now, the Raptors will be without Jared Sullinger who played last night in the D-League. For the record, Sully put up an 18 and 15 in 27 minutes, while shooting 6-of-19 from the floor. It feels tremendously unlikely he’ll play today, which leaves the Raptors with the aforementioned three big men, Carroll and maybe whatever run they can get from Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl. This has become an interesting theme to the season.
Kyle Lowry and His Minutes
Speaking of themes of the season, Kyle Lowry’s minutes, full stop. With DeMar DeRozan possibly sitting out again today (no word as of yet about this), the Raptors will once again lean on their all-star leader to get the job done. Lowry’s been playing 38-39 minutes a game for the past week with the only sub-35 minute game coming in a blowout to Charlotte.
On Friday, the plan to lean on Lowry worked: he went off for 32 points, 6 assists and a 50 percent shooting night (including 3-of-6 from three). They’re still scrapping the remains of Matthew Dellavedova off the court. Tonight Lowry will most likely have to contend with Elfrid Payton, a taller order, but nothing he can’t handle.
The worry of course is that the Raptors risk burning Lowry out as the season continues. We’ve seen what happens during a prolonged DeRozan absence before. It means an increase in Lowry usage and perhaps some wins. But it also opens the door to Lowry grinding himself into dust come the post-season. As you can imagine, Toronto cannot survive without Lowry. Let’s see what happens tonight.
Hey, Big Bizness!
For the rest of time it will hard not to feel some sense of kinship with Bismack. He’s on Orlando now, doing what he can to help a moribund team stay afloat. But his time in Toronto will not soon be forgotten — even if only last for one memorable year.
The Raptors have one a mere one game in six over the past week. While it sucks to have to take out these woes on a guy as nice as Biyombo, it has to be done. Still, this is Big Bizness’ first return to Toronto since earning himself that big contract. If you’re at the game today, be sure to give him the ovation he deserves, do the finger wag, maybe even toss in his Bolt celebration. We miss you Biz.
Where to Watch: 6:00pm on TSN 4/5