The Raptors were supposed to be moving into an easier stretch of the schedule. They’re into the final game of a little three-game road trip, but their opponents have been of a softer quality than those of their west coast run to kick-off the season. At least that was the theory. Except after disappointing losses to the Knicks and Pacers, the Raptors are staring down a three-game losing streak in Atlanta.
The Hawks are a bad team — not middling, not trying to put things together, bad. The squad is 4-15 with nary a success story to show for it. The “best” player on the team is Dennis Schroder, and after that, it’s just a lot of question marks. (And even Schroder is something of an enigma.)
The stage is set then for the reeling Raptors to get back in the win column, or for the nothing-to-lose Hawks to jump on a weakened opponent. Which will happen? Let’s try to figure that out.
Where to Watch
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Hawks - Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins
Raptors - C.J. Miles (hanging with his new baby), Delon Wright
Hawks - Mike Muscala, Luke Babbitt, Isaiah Taylor
Whose Lineup Is It Anyway?
The Raptors need to figure this out, sooner rather than later. Last night against the Pacers, Jonas Valanciunas was blown off the floor in six minutes and the starting lineup got off to another questionable start. Then, even with Pascal Siakam in to start the second half, the chemistry imbalance was palatable. (We’ll get to the energy imbalance in a second.) Tossing JV in late with a mix-matched lineup in the fourth (including Lorenzo Brown!), didn’t help matters.
How do the Raptors sort this out? It feels weird to fight so hard for Siakam to be put in the starting lineup given how much we wanted him out of it last year, but he’s definitely making a push now. And it feels insane that Norman Powell is once again on the bench — even if OG Anunoby has been playing well for a rookie. And we still need to figure out if the Raptors know what to do with Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl. And could Serge Ibaka wake up or what? Things still need to fall into place here, is my point.
When the Raptors are playing well none of these questions/concerns seem to matter. But when they’re struggling, the lineup combos Dwane Casey tries out get curiouser and curiouser. It’s true, he’s trying to unlock the potential of various units; at the same time, by now we should know what doesn’t work... right?
Energy, Energy, Energy
That said, it doesn’t matter which lineups the Raptors try if everyone is, as Casey says, playing in mud. It was clear last night that only Kyle Lowry was truly locked in. He was putting his body on the line, he played the most minutes, and his near triple-double line (24-10-8) are a testament to that.
But where was DeRozan? Where was, again, Ibaka? And who was ready to fight from the bench unit? In both the Knicks and Pacers games, the Raptors were caught sleeping too many times (or for an entire quarter, as per that insane 28-0 run on Wednesday). DeRozan in particular appeared to take himself out of the game in the second half vs. the Knicks, and for most of the game in Indiana. Against the Hawks, Toronto can expect more of the same: Schroder is going to try to push, guys like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova (Raptor killer alert!) are going to bomb threes, and if the Raps nap, they’ll be put to sleep for good.
A team like the Hawks, which has a definite talent deficit when compared to the Raptors, will bring the energy to compensate. Can Toronto match that or are we going to see another questionable showing from too many key guys?
Culture Watch: 3-point Edition
Last night in Indiana the Raptors went 9-for-30 from deep but the starting lineup, except Lowry, missed every three they took. Against the Knicks it was a better 14-for-38 (36 percent, league-ish average). In both games Ibaka missed all of his shots from deep.
Now I don’t want to single Serge out, but the Raptors need him to do more than contest shots at the rim. One of Ibaka’s main reasons for even being on the floor — especially when he appears to be playing at half-speed sometimes — is his three-point stroke. When he’s not hitting, Toronto’s starting unit (beyond Lowry) can only count on maybe a DeRozan splurge from behind the arc, or some gravy 3s from Anunoby.
Ironically, the rest of the Raptors’ bench is about where you’d expect them from deep. Norm goes on tears, Fred VanVleet is steady, and sometimes Siakam makes teams pay. Without Miles again tonight against the Hawks, the Raptors will need that kind of production again plus, oh I don’t know, a re-emergence from Serge. Good luck.