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Raptors host new-look Knicks in divisional battle: Preview, start time and more

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The Raptors return home to defend the ACC, where they are 4-1 on the season.

NBA: New York Knicks at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors are looking to continue their blistering offensive production of the last five games in a Friday night split against the visiting New York Knicks. Toronto, averaging 118 points per game since their November 5 loss to Washington, face off against a revamped and energetic Knicks team featuring one of the brightest young players in the NBA, Kristaps Porzingis.

Here are tonight’s details and keys to the game.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet One 7:30 p.m. EST

Starters

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

New York - Jarrett Jack, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter

Injuries

Toronto - Delon Wright (shoulder), Norm Powell (hip pointer - doubtful)

New York - Ron Baker (shoulder), Courtney Lee (hamstring - probable)

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Explosive Raptors’ Offense

Toronto has won four of the last five thanks in large part to what has been the most prolific display of offensive production since their torrent streak early last season. It’s tough to forget that four week period when they tore through the league unimpeded, winning 14 of 16 games from late November through December, and the last two weeks have had an eerily similar feel offensively.

It’s not clear what changed after their loss to Washington, but what is clear is that this is how the offense was designed to function. Just for fun, let’s compare stats from last season’s 14-2 streak to this year’s version of the unstoppable offense.

November 23, 2016 - December 26, 2016

Record: 14-2 (16 GP)
Average 3PM per game: 11.4
Average assists per game: 21.1
Team FG%: 49.0%
Team 3P%: 44.3%
Average Points per game: 114.4

Here are those same categories, but from the last five games:

Average 3PM: 13.8
Average Assists: 24.4
Team FG%: 51.4%
Team 3P%: 44.5%
Average Points per game: 117.8

Folks, this is what the offense looks like when it executes the game plan efficiently. We saw glimpses of it last season but things quickly changed after the New Year, as we all remember. Hopefully, with the added emphasis on playing this brand of ball, we can continue to enjoy the shootout type performances that tickled us pink a year ago.

New-Look Knicks

New York, sitting at 8-6, is no joke. Sitting four spots behind Toronto in offensive rating at 6th place, they have been equally efficient scoring the ball. These aren’t the Knicks of old – they’re young, they’re confident, and they have nothing to lose. There’s a smorgasbord of outcasts coming into town, and they won’t go down without a fight.

For as crass and unapologetic as Phil Jackson was – he made a few great moves and was right on the money regarding Anthony’s necessary departure from the team. That much is clear given the way they’ve played in his absence.

Also beginning to pan out is Frank Ntilikina – the previously unknown Frenchman whose selection caused a lot of raw scalps (from the scratching of heads) in the Big Apple. The rookie is currently third in the league in steals per game, and despite shooting splits that rival Lonzo Ball for worst by a rookie player, he has been surprisingly confident for a kid that was written off by so many on draft night.

I’ll save you the trouble of having to read another article that gushes over Kristaps Porzingis. We all understand by now – he’s good, he’s great, he’s the second coming of Christ, yadda yadda. Regardless, you should expect a big game from him Friday night. He’ll likely dominate as the team’s primary scoring option, with his nearly unguardable skillset on offense.

Post Defense

Both clubs have been below average defensively all season, despite sporting two of the top ten offenses in the league. Toronto has trouble guarding the post and routinely allows easy buckets, while New York will let teams shoot threes all night with little resistance (teams are averaging 12.9 made threes on 38% against the Knicks this year).

This has the potential to be a shootout if Toronto fails to apply the kind of defensive pressure they employed for brief periods against the Pelicans. However, hopefully, it won’t solely be up to the second unit to provide that pressure. I’m talking about one player in particular.

Serge Ibaka has been one of the most efficient Raptors on the offensive end, notching a 63.6 true shooting percentage through 13 games. That’s not the issue though - he needs to be better defensively, through and through. We all know Jonas’ limitations – to ask more of him is to ask an elephant to recite the alphabet. However, Serge Ibaka is a defensive archetype who has been absent on that end this season. He needs to make an appearance Friday if Toronto has any hope of controlling the game from the start.

As a team, Toronto has to do a better job than they showed Wednesday of forcing the Knicks out of their comfort zone in the paint. The Raptors are currently 21st and 15th respectively in opponent FG% and 3P%. If they allow the Knicks to get what they want all night (New York is 5th in FG%, but 21st in 3P%) it could be more of the same from Wednesday when we watched the Pelicans dominate the paint all evening.

Keep an eye on the Raptors defensive pressure in the paint after the brutal effort against the Pelicans. It should be the team’s number one priority versus a Knicks frontcourt that’s lethal on offense.