Everything’s been smooth sailing for the Toronto Raptors lately, so sometimes it’s nice to stir the pot to keep momentum going.
That might be the thinking behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s latest proclamations that they should be playing on Christmas Day, a chatter that made its way into the holiday games and seems to resonate. After all, the Raptors — as we’ve said — are fun and good.
Manufacturing a chip on your shoulder might be necessary in a month like this. Again tonight, the Raptors will play a team with a sub-.500 record in Dallas. The 9-25 Mavericks are ready for shelling, with Harrison Barnes and a Dirk Nowitzki retirement tour standing between them and a top pick in the draft. You have to think that the deadline will be busy for them, with teams poking around for Wesley Matthews and Nerlens Noel.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are looking for their seventh straight win and 13 in 14. We’ll see if some Christmas controversy can keep their fires lit, or if Dallas is just bad enough to do it by themselves.
Here are the game details.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 7:00 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Dallas — Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Maxi Kleber, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki
Toronto — C.J. Miles (TBD), Lucas Nogueira (TBD)
Dallas — Seth Curry (out), Dorian Finney-Smith (out), Josh McRoberts (out), Nerlens Noel (out)
Keep Jonas Involved
Though he’s injured and sitting anyway, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle hasn’t been keen on playing his best defensive centre in Nerlens Noel. This is a whole ongoing drama for Dallas, with contract negotiations and egos butting heads and ending badly. The result is an aging Dirk Nowitzki at the starting centre spot, and Jonas Valanciunas should be primed for a good night.
Jonas has scored double-digits in six of his last eight games, with two double-doubles on the Raptors current win streak. In good situations, he’s shown he can be a force, and this matchup should be winnable with Nowitzki. Dallas may be quick to bring in Canadian third-year Dwight Powell, who was a perfect 5-for-5 in their most recent game against Atlanta.
There is intrigue on the other end too, as Valanciunas will be asked to move out and guard the German legend in different sets. If this is the case, other Raptors will be asked to rebound — Dallas is second-worst in the NBA at second chance points, and if Toronto guards are committed to finishing possessions with boards, it should stay that way.
It won’t be a battle of speed, but how the starting centre matchup shakes out could be decisive in this game.
Ibaka vs. Barnes
Another interesting matchup is how Serge Ibaka and Harrison Barnes play each other at power forward. Barnes is the Mavericks’ leading scorer at 18.7 per game, adding in 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Ibaka, too, will be asked to extend his defensive range when playing the athletic Barnes, though plenty of Harrison’s stuff comes off the dribble.
Also, this being the beginning of a back-to-back could have impact on Serge’s minutes. He’s been far better on rest, and with a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder coming up, you’d like for him to get as much rest as possible in Dallas.
Which brings us to…
Take Care of Business
If Harrison Barnes and an aging Dirk Nowitzki are the biggest of your worries, there should be a win on the horizon. With the Thunder looming, who have won five straight and got a signature win on Christmas Day against Houston, you’d rather have the rim protection and energetic defense of Ibaka on the back end of this two-game trip, as opposed to the front.
This goes double for the other Raptors’ starters, who have been the initiators on this win streak. While the bench has been hit or miss — hitting more since the return of Delon Wright — it would be great to see those Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan minutes stay low, especially against a 9-25 team.