The Raptors will have to wait until they go out west before they face a challenging opponent this season.
Up against a Joel Embiid-less Sixers team on Saturday, Toronto found little resistance in their quest to make as many cool highlights as possible en route to a 128-94 blowout win.
Win number two brought together the potency the bench showed against Chicago, with a more fine-tuned starting five than the one that was clearly searching for chemistry on opening night.
After a couple minutes of carried-over awkwardness, the starters began to click. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka combined for 31 points on Thursday; DeRozan had 30 on his own in just 27 minutes of action on Saturday. Ibaka and Lowry chipped in 21 and 17 respectively with similarly light workloads.
After struggling to find a balance two nights ago, DeRozan looked more at ease hunting his own shot, without compromising the goal of Toronto’s rejiggered offense. He rained his typical brand of mid-range death on the weary Sixers’ heads, while piling up a familiar 16 free throw attempts — good for 30 points, three boards and three assists on a clean 8-of-12 from the field.
Oddly enough, the lone starter to struggle was Norman Powell, who was overeager to make his patented slashes. He’s at his best when carving into a rotating and recovering defense; on Saturday he too often dove in against defenders prepared to handle his telegraphed straight-line drives.
You know Norm Powell is driving into traffic when he shouldn't when even Okafor lands a block on him— Seerat Sohi (@DamianTrillard) October 22, 2017
With the Raptors’ stars carrying their offensive weight, the bench didn’t need to prop up the team the way it did against the Bulls. C.J. Miles’ five points on 2-of-7 shooting were a reminder that he’s not going to provide a personal three-point shootout every time out. OG Anunoby only made one or two plays that’ll have fans salivating as opposed to the five or six he made in his debut. Oh, bother.
Even without eye-popping numbers, the reserves helped put this one out of reach early. That Dwane Casey went to his new star-less bench unit without hesitation late in the first suggests a growing level of trust from the coach. Through two games, it appears he may have stumbled into a way of limiting the minutes of Lowry and DeRozan -- at least against inferior opponents.
Delon Wright, once again, stood out from the reserve crowd. Even with his shot wayward and just one assist to his name, he still found a way to dazzle with nearly every off-beat foray into the Sixers defense. He’s not exactly boring on defense, either.
Jonas Valanciunas’ right ankle proved to be the only real downer in this game. Late in the second quarter, while battling for a rebound with Dario Saric, Valanciunas landed on his ankle in a way ankles should not be landed on. He was diagnosed with a sprain and sat out the rest of the night. Dwane Casey said after the game that he’ll go for an MRI on Sunday.
It seems like every great stretch of Valanciunas’ career has been derailed by an ankle injury. Through six quarters he’d put up an impressive 28 points and 19 boards this season. His pick-and-roll chemistry with his guards looks notably improved, too. If his availability is in doubt in the coming games, the upcoming six-game road trip will be made that much more difficult.
That said, if there’s a position at which the Raptors can afford to suffer an injury, it’s at centre. Jakob Poeltl (14 points, five rebounds and a bunch of dunks) and Lucas Nogueira (10 points, 8 boards and a bunch more dunks) filled in for JV to great effect. They should be able to contribute enough to cheer fans up until Valanciunas is fit to return.
And if the play of those two isn’t quite enough to perk your mood, here are a series of highlight-reel plays the Raptors pulled off tonight.
Feel better now? I knew you would.
See you on Monday night as the Raptors visit the Spurs.