The Raptors look to extend their winning streak to five in a Friday evening matchup with the Grizzlies of Memphis. Memphis is a reeling team, completely opposite of Toronto, searching for any remedy to their current predicament; they’ve lost nine of their last ten games. Without Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and his team have struggled to excel on offense, currently sitting at 28th in points per game and 25th in offensive rating.
Toronto, on the other hand, comes in playing some of their best basketball of the season. The recent blip of losing third quarters seems to be a dying trend, as they’ve been executing on both ends with exact precision. Against a young Suns team, Toronto once again showcased their ability to execute a defensive game plan, as they held Devin Booker to 4-of-15 from the field on Tuesday — just another instance of the Raptors holding the opposing team’s best player to a below season average performance.
Versus a struggling Grizzlies offense, their defensive assignments will be comparable to what they’ll generally see over the month of December as they play through one of the easiest schedules in the league. While they won’t come in with a mindset of playing Golden State, they still shouldn’t be as relaxed as they were Tuesday when Casey actually used the 48-minute game to experiment with lineups and offensive plays — making it feel more like a televised practice session.
Here’s what to expect and where to watch:
Where to Watch:
TSN 8:00 p.m.
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Memphis - Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
Toronto - Delon Wright (Out – Shoulder) Lucas Noguiera (Out – Calf)
Memphis - Mike Conley (Out) Brandan Wright (Doubtful) Wayne Selden (Out)
Few games in the upcoming schedule have more potential to be a trap game for Toronto than Friday evening in Memphis. Typically, the Grizzlies have been the grittiest team in the league over the last seven seasons, and this year is no different. It’s just a way of their nature to be hardworking and competitive as hell. When you lose as many games as Memphis has over the last month, guys start to get desperate and especially motivated.
Before defeating Minnesota last week, Memphis almost stole a game from the streaking Cavaliers, before getting out to a big lead in the first quarter against the Knicks on Wednesday. The point is, despite their bad rankings in various offensive categories this season, the team will always have a bite and can really do damage if their opponent isn’t diligent with their lead.
Rewind to Tuesday night at the ACC: Toronto played at about 50 percent of their ability and never managed to put the boot on the Suns’ throat until there were about three minutes left in the game. If it weren’t for Phoenix’s complete ineptitude on both ends of the floor, they might have worked their way back into the game. Toronto cannot afford to lose focus at any point in Friday night’s matchup.
The former Rookie of the Year descended into relative obscurity during his final year in Sacramento, and especially so during his three and a half years in basketball hell, New Orleans. While he showcased brilliant ability in his first year of Memphis (the university), he never progressed and quickly became a trade deadline throw-in kind of player.
Fast forward eight years and Evans is again one of the most important players on his team, in some ways coming full circle. In Mike Conley’s stead, Evans has been a very solid leader for the starting unit. Despite being a career 30 percent 3-point shooter, he’s managed to hit 43 percent of his long-distance shots this year.
Standing at 6’5”, Toronto’s undersized backcourt will have their hands full making sure Evans doesn’t put up a 30 point game as the only reliable offensive weapon on the team. Like Booker, Porzingis and Anthony Davis of games past, Toronto will look to apply extra pressure on the dynamic scorer Friday night in an effort to stall the Grizzlies’ offense.
Don’t Change What Works
You would genuinely have a tough time finding anything negative from the last four Raptor games. They’ve been executing at a near perfect level during their winning streak, averaging 121 points per game, shooting 51 percent from the field and 39 percent from three, and dishing out 28.5 assists against 13 turnovers. Their shooting defense has been just as impressive — holding teams to 44% from the field and 33% from deep.
So, if you could point to any fault in this stretch, look no further than their focus – or lack thereof at times during games. This is the perfect matchup to keep the intensity at 11, and for the team to challenge themselves to put the game out of reach by the start of the fourth quarter.
Memphis is still a pretty good defensive team, so Toronto will face their biggest test on offense since they played Washington (10th in defensive rating) last month. This won’t be the cakewalk Tuesday’s game against the Suns was.