The Toronto Raptors currently sit second in the Eastern Conference with an 11-5 record. They trail only their streaking Atlantic-division mate Boston Celtics (16-2) in the standings, though this seeding isn’t particularly surprising when we remember LeBron and Co. are still figuring their crap out in Cleveland.
Still, it’s a nice place to be for a Toronto team that had a lot of questions coming into the year, especially given the better brand of basketball they’re (mostly) playing these days, on both sides of the ball. Tonight they head out on the road to take on a different Atlantic division rival, the New York Knicks.
Here are tonight’s details and keys to the game for Raptors-Knicks.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30PM Eastern
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
New York - Jarrett Jack, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter
Toronto - Delon Wright (shoulder), Norm Powell (hip pointer - questionable)
New York - Ron Baker (shoulder), Frank Ntilikina (illness - probable)
The Knicks have been fun this year but as a team, they’re not exactly dripping with raw athleticism. Their starting five is made up of two enormous Euro big men, two workmanlike guards and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Toronto isn’t exactly the 90’s Sonics on the athleticism spectrum but they have more than enough to out-hustle and out-leap these Knickerbockers, and it was apparent in their blowout victory last week. They posted a team season-high 11 rejections and four players had multiple swats, even with Serge Ibaka out of the lineup. Not coincidentally, the Knicks shot just 33 percent from the floor for the game. If Toronto wants a repeat of last weeks game tonight at Madison Square Garden, actively protecting the rim will need to be a big part of the game plan.
Pascal vs. Kristaps
Speaking of Ibaka being out, Pascal Siakam drew the start for him last week against New York, and played magnificently. In 34 minutes, he posted 13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal. More importantly though, he played absolutely stifling defense on young Knicks superstar Kristaps Porzingis.
The Zinger has lit the league on fire this year, currently sitting 4th in the NBA in scoring at 27.6 points per game. Against our man Pascal? He finished 3-of-13 in 35 minutes, for just 13 points. He was 1-of-10 on two-point shots, a testament to the tenacious one-on-one defense Siakam played all night long. It will be interesting to see how Dwane Casey works Siakam into the rotation tonight, given that Ibaka is expected to start.
The Awesome Atlantic
The Raptors have had an easy time of it in their own division in recent seasons, but that officially ends now. The Celtics are obviously very good but that’s been the case for a couple years now. The surprising Knicks are Carmelo-free, which has allowed Porzingis to flourish more than anyone could have imagined — they’re presumably only going to get better as terrible contracts like Joakim Noah’s come off the books in coming years. The Philadelphia 76ers had no choice but to trust the process, and it’s starting to pay dividends in a big way, as both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons look like true superstars. Even the Brooklyn Nets, almost completely devoid of top-end talent, are well-coached and transforming their organization.
The Atlantic division is no longer the cake-walk it once was — for a quartet of opponents that makes up more than a quarter of the Raptors schedule, this is less than ideal. Dare I say it — the division has become a bit of a meat grinder! And in the world of ground meat, you can be the sausage or the butcher. Despite the rising stars of their Atlantic brethren, the Raptors are still one of the teams holding the cleaver in the Eastern Conference. Look for them to wield it tonight at MSG.