Equipped with just a 6-4 record, the Raptors are going Pelican hunting. After an unnecessarily exhilarating win against the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors look to start a streak against Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and company. Given these two teams’ volatile pasts, we should see an interesting matchup with no clear favourite.
Of course, the Raptors are favoured; the team is generally recognized as a consistent Eastern Conference contender, while the Pelicans have been teetering the playoff qualifying line for a couple years now.
However, my confidence in the Raptors is wavering. Kyle Lowry’s shooting struggles continue to plague him (39.5 FG%, 32.2 3P%) as he gets used to the new offense, Valanciunas’ lack of consistency game-over-game continues to infuriate fans (over six games, Jonas has failed to put up double-digit points and rebounds five times), and highly destructive lineups run rampant (the Ibaka/Valanciunas pairing’s defensive dearth cost the Raptors a game against the Washington Wizards earlier this season).
The Pelicans, at 6-5, are in the position to seriously challenge the Raptors. Coming off three wins in a row, they’re looking to capitalize on their momentum. For coach Alvin Gentry, the last two seasons have been an uphill battle. With a roster carried by stars but weighed down by a lack of wing depth, Gentry has struggled to find a lineup that consistently wins games.
While Cousins often opts to hover around the perimeter (7.5 3-point attempts per game), he isn’t averse to grabbing rebounds (13.6 RPG). Neither is Davis however (12.8 RPG), and the players tend to complement each other.
But, it isn’t all peaches and cream for the Pelicans (doesn’t that sound like a Dwane Casey-ism?). Their search for a viable wing player has gone cold, and while in a hypothetical vacuum, it would appear as though Josh Smith could still play basketball, he’s averaging just four minutes per game on a team where Dante Cunningham is their starting small forward — yikes.
This season, E’twuan Moore is consistently playing 30+ minutes per game, and contributing just 9.9 points, which is essentially the same PPG as he put up last year in limited minutes (24.9 MPG). Their lack of scoring options spells trouble for the Pels, as Davis and Cousins are both known to be somewhat injury prone, and likely will not be able to chip in close to 82 games each. At some point, they are going to need a roster change to support their stars, lest we see the modern Pelicans era crumble.
So, what do the Raptors need to do to win this game? Here are the details.
Where to Watch:
SN ONE at 7:30 p.m., EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
New Orleans - Jrue Holiday, E’Twuan Moore, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
Toronto - none
New Orleans - [EDIT] - Alexis Ajinca, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, Frank Jackson, Omer Asik
Attack the Glass
The Raptors rank near the bottom of the league in rebounds per game, which is trouble, considering the frontcourt giants that the Pelicans have at their disposal. The Pelicans rank near the top of the league, which means that the Raptors will need Jonas Valanciunas to chip in, at the very least, an elusive double-digit rebounding game.
Serge Ibaka also will need to up his rebounding game, as he has been lacking energy so far during this campaign (5.3 RPG). I would expect Jakob Poeltl to get more minutes tonight, as his high-energy, no-fear attitude often enables him to feast on the glass — at least, when he’s given minutes.
Defense from the Big Men
Davis and Cousins can score from both the outside and the inside, each equipped with a prowess in the post, a relentless roll game and a respectable outside shot. If the Raptors are going to play Valanciunas for heavy minutes, he would need to be agile and carefully aware, especially on the defensive end. When it comes to Valanciunas, this is easier said than done. Thus, I would hope to see some younger guys (e.g. Poeltl, Siakam, Nogueira) get some playing time in this game.
The Raptors are a guard-oriented team — there’s no two ways about it. While Davis and Cousins will likely have their way with our big men, either due to a lack of experience, quickness or in-game awareness, Lowry must contribute a strong effort against their talented starting point guard, Jrue Holiday.
If Jrue outscores Lowry by a considerable margin, the Raptors are in trouble. Hopefully we see a resurgence in Lowry’s three-point shot tonight, otherwise, it’s feeding time for the Pelicans.