The Raptors are going through some issues right now. And it’s beginning to feel like the more we say that the less likely it is they’ll steer out of it. Or maybe they will? That’s the big picture concern right now: we know the Raptors, on paper, have the manpower to be a solid team, but figuring out why they are not at the moment requires some doing.
(Yes, I know some of you feel like you can pinpoint the problem. We’ll get to a discussion of the rotation later today with Daniel Hackett’s weekly Numbers Game column.)
Regardless, the Raptors welcome the New Orleans Pelicans to the ACC tonight and that’s both a good and bad thing. The Pelicans, record-wise, are the inverse of the Raptors at 19-29. They’ve been struggling for some time now, even with all-world player Anthony Davis on the squad. So, to sum up: they’re a bad team with a fantastic player. This could be trouble.
Here are three things to watch for as we head into tonight’s game:
What Kind of Defense?
After Sunday night’s drubbing (despite the close score) by the Magic, the Raptors have reached something of a low point on defense. Coach Dwane Casey was obviously upset post-game and with good reason. It’s hard to understand how any NBA team could give up 19 straight points to the Magic (an objectively bad offensive team), but it happened.
As many have been saying this season, the faults on defense appear to be happening all over the court. The perimeter defense — particularly in the performance of “specialists” DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph — has been porous, and the team’s pick-and-roll coverage comes and goes. Sunday’s game showed instances of confusion, lack of effort and, yes, some curious lineup combinations that put Toronto into a perilous position.
After presumably getting yelled at in the time between then and now, will the defensive effort of the squad change? It’s not hyperbole to suggest the season may hang in the balance.
The Brow is Here
So this is going to sound crazy but, the Raptors haven’t faced a Pelicans team with Davis for two seasons. Somehow they managed to split those games 2-2, which seems insane. Anthony Davis is, as you can imagine, most of this team. For the record: Davis is averaging 28 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.3 blocks, along with shooting splits of 50/30/79. He’s good.
How the Raptors will contain him remains very much up for debate. While one would assume he’d be a bad matchup for Jonas Valanciunas, the Pelicans have paired Davis with Dante Cunningham in the front court, which makes the JV-Brow showdown inevitable. On the other end, perhaps JV can leverage some of his strength to get Davis back on his heels. Or perhaps the Raptors will opt to swarm him with a combination of Patrick Patterson and Pascal Siakam. Ultimately, it feels unlikely Toronto will be able to totally stop the guy. As I said, Davis is good.
The Quest for a Third
This applies somewhat to both teams. The Raptors have the scoring onslaught of DeMar DeRozan, back from injury, and Kyle Lowry to rely on, but after that it’s hard for them to lean on any third guy on this team. Some nights it is Valanciunas, sometimes Carroll hits his threes, sometimes Patterson’s glue guy status carries the day.
For the Pelicans the drop off feels even more perilous. Davis is mighty, Jrue Holiday is rounding into form somewhat, and then... Terrence Jones? The ghost of Tyreke Evans? Who is stepping up?
In may be simplifying things to phrase it this way, but here it goes anyway: whichever team can figure out who their third guy is for the night first will win. Ungainly, but true.
Where to Watch: TSN 1/4, 7:00pm