It’s a special night tonight at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors are set to debut their ‘Welcome Toronto’ night against the Utah Jazz that will feature Toronto’s OVO Edition jerseys to match with a newly designed court. Along with their home, away, and alternate-black uniforms, the OVO Edition jerseys are a part of Nike’s ‘City Edition’ jersey, and are the fourth and final jersey the Raptors will sport this season.
Onto tonight’s game. The Raptors are back home to take on the Jazz after a brief two-game trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Atlanta Hawks. Toronto split the two-game trip with a 115-109 loss at Minnesota on Saturday and a 108-93 win in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Toronto won the previous matchup against Utah back on Nov. 3, winning 109-100, with DeMar DeRozan going off for 37 points and Kyle Lowry recording a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. Jazz’s star rookie Donovan Mitchell put up 25 points in 32 minutes of play and was starting to attract attention from the league at the time.
Since the start of the new year, Toronto is 8-4 and with a win tonight, the 32-14 Raptors will be one game back from the first-place Boston Celtics, who are 35-14.
The Jazz are 4-7 in their last 11 games and are 20-28 for the season.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet ONE, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto – None
Utah – Dante Exum (Separated left shoulder – OUT), Rodney Hood (Lower left leg contusion – OUT), Thabo Sefolosha (Sprained right MCL – OUT)
So Much for Being a Rookie
Mitchell’s first-year in the league has been impressive. Over the course of his first 46 games, Mitchell is leading all rookies in points per game with 19.1, averaging 3.4 in both assists and rebounds, and ranks third among all rookies in steals per game with 1.5.
What the Raptors must do is contain Mitchell at best and lucky for us, we have the perfect guys in Lowry and Anunoby for that. Although Mitchell dropped 25 the last time out, the Raptors and Lowry and Anunoby are well aware of what he can do, meaning Toronto will gameplan for him. Lowry’s gritty defensive play should make Mitchell uncomfortable and take him out of his offensive rhythm.
If the Raptors do make the switch to have Anunoby guard Mitchell instead of Joe Ingles then they must stay alert on Ingles as well because he is an excellent three-point shooter, shooting 42.8 percent from deep. Ingles made two-straight clutch three-pointers in the overtime period that led them to defeat the Detroit Pistons in their last game.
It Will be Raining Threes Inside the ACC
The Utah Jazz are the second-worst team defending from outside as they let their opponents shoot 38.1 percent per game. Hopefully, the Raptors still have their groove from the Atlanta game as they came out firing in that game with eight made three-pointers in the first-half and 14 for the game. Hitting 14 three-pointers in that game improved the Raptors to 25-6 when they make 10 or more three-pointers in a game.
So, expect to see Lowry, DeRozan (hopefully), Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, and others let it fly freely and hopefully each one of them hit a few (or a lot) from downtown against the Jazz tonight.
Run and Don’t Look Back
In the game against Atlanta, the Raptors pushed the ball up at a fast pace. They scored 58 first-half points and took an 18-point lead at the half. In relation to that, when the Raptors score 55-plus points in the first half they are 24-4. Although Atlanta isn’t the best defensive team in the league, with a defensive rating of 107.5, the Raptors will have to be efficient and limit their errors on offense, if they choose to play fast against this Jazz team. Why? Well, Utah ranks 13th in defensive rating and what helps that cause is having guys like Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Jonas Jerebko, and Ingles, who can defend multiple positions. With that in mind, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka will have to play physical when they get touches in the paint.
A counterpoint to the Jazz’s good defense is the slow pace they play at with a pace rating of 97.1, which is fourth-worst in the league. Luckily for Toronto, they will have a slight advantage to that because they rank 10th in the league with a pace rating of 100.7. So, the Raptors’ best bet is to run the ball to tire out the Jazz’s defense but also to make the most out of their possessions.
OVO jerseys, OVO-themed court, Raptors on fire, and with Drake possibly sitting courtside, it should be a good Friday night, right?