Incurring three losses in four games have made the Raptors seek the type of clarity they haven’t yet had to search for so far this season. It’s been a tough stretch of games that everybody saw coming, and as such, questions naturally arose as to whether the success they enjoyed during a cakewalk December schedule was an indicator of a true contender, or rather a group simply taking advantage of an opportunity.
The Raptors are 5-3 since the calendar turned, with two wins against Milwaukee, plus an old-fashioned beat-down of Cleveland, as their signature victories. So, nothing is necessarily wrong with the team during the last week, it’s simply a feeling we’ve been without up until now.
Luckily, Detroit isn’t a team that causes the Raptors to tremble when they show up on the schedule. Toronto has won nine of the last 13 meetings with Detroit dating back to 2013. While the January schedule is tough overall, the Raptors have to take advantage of winnable games such as this one in order to stay grounded.
Detroit comes in as a struggling squad dealing with a multitude of injuries to key players. Despite finishing November as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference thanks to the renewed efficiency of Andre Drummond, they have since lost 14 of the last 22 games, and now sit just one game ahead of Philadelphia in the eighth spot in the standings.
They’re a team plagued by the untimeliness of these injuries, and given that the team recently signed Kay Felder and Reggie Hearn to two-way contracts in order to shore up depth on the perimeter, it’s safe to say they’re getting desperate.
Here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 pm
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Detroit – Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, Reggie Bullock, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (Knee - QUES)
Detroit – Avery Bradley (Groin – QUES), Reggie Jackson (Ankle – OUT), Stanley Johnson (Hip – QUES), Jon Leuer (Ankle – OUT), Luke Kennard (Thumb – QUES)
One of Those Monster JV Games
Jonas Valanciunas has a tendency to step up for big-time match-ups, such as those against Andre Drummond. The two players have a notable history, which includes Drummond’s disrespect for JV’s 3-point shot and a failed trade which prompted Masai Ujiri to tell Valanciunas how much better he is than Drummond.
Through all the antics however, JV has continually stepped up for games against his Eastern Conference rival, to the tune of 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game over their last ten match-ups. While Jonas has had trouble keeping Drummond off the boards (12.9 rebounds over those ten games), he’s consistently looked like the better player overall, with performances of 31 points and 12 rebounds three years ago, and 32 points and 11 rebounds last season among the successful games he’s had versus Detroit.
This game should be no different given the way Valanciunas has been playing of late. Barring some unforeseen event, JV should step up to the challenge like he always does, and provide Toronto with the type of valuable peripheral production that usually spells a win.
Reggie Hearn and Kay Felder are two obscure names in the NBA world that could see major time on the court Wednesday evening. Reports indicate the two were signed Monday and then immediately given the playbook in order to be game ready as soon as possible — which means Toronto fans could see them play.
While Hearn doesn’t have a lick of NBA experience (instead spending most of his post-collegiate career in the G League), Kay Felder actually spent part of last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, while appearing in 14 games for Chicago this season.
The reason I’m mentioning these players is so that you aren’t surprised if one of them puts up 15 points versus the Raptors. It looks like one of the two will be given a good dose of minutes right off the bat, especially if a number of Piston back-court players are sitting.
While I don’t see either being a game-changing presence on Wednesday, they could get some shots up if Toronto’s scouting report doesn’t account for their presence.
Get Lowry Situated
One takeaway from Monday’s loss was the play of Kyle Lowry. He did not look anything like a starting point guard, and I don’t think it was due to tremendous pressure from the Sixers’ guards themselves. He was bad on both ends and even committed two heinous turnovers within seconds of each other at the end of the game. Add the sloppy play to an already bad shooting night and you have an uncharacteristically all-around bad game from the team’s leader.
You won’t win many of those.
Was he rusty? Most definitely. Tonight’s game would’ve been the ideal return date for him, given the practice day on Tuesday. At any point this season, if Lowry isn’t completely healthy, then he shouldn’t be playing, bottom line. It’s understandable if he wanted to suit up against Philadelphia just hours after his million-dollar donation to Villanova was announced, but for the sake of the team, he shouldn’t play unless he’s 100%.
I think it’s safe to say Toronto can be afforded the “regular-season cruise-control” mindset just a little, especially if it’s a game in January following two emotionally draining games against two Finals’ teams. Sitting a player here and there throughout the season should be an acceptable practice.
But, from the actions of the team so far in 2018, it doesn’t seem as though they agree with the practice of healthy scratches. Things could change between now and the beginning of April, however, so who knows — there could be plenty of rest in the works for Lowry, DeMar and the rest of the gang. Given how well the bench guards are playing this season, it’d be a shock not to see some coordinated DNPs at some point this season.
And I’m willing to bet some fans would actually be disgusted if there weren’t.