The Los Angeles Lakers came into Toronto last night riding a hot streak: winners of 4 in a row and 8 of 10. Meanwhile the Raptors were coming off a rough home loss to the Jazz. But you are what your record says you are, as a wise man once said, and the 32-15 team with the 17-4 home record handled the 19-29 team with the 7-15 road record easily.
It took 2.5 quarters, but DeMar DeRozan finally came to life
DeMar DeRozan struggled through the first half; he was 3-of-11 going into the third. That’s coming off three games in which he shot a combined 18-52 (34.6%).
He picked it up in the third, though. With five minutes to go in the quarter and the lead at 9, DeRozan proceeded to score 12 points on a variety of drives and floaters, including two and-1s (though he missed one of the FTs).
The lead was 14 going into the fourth and the starters got the rest of the night off.
Here’s hoping that little spurt snapped DeRozan out of this mini-funk.
(Also worth noting: DeRozan tallied another 7 assists last night; that’s 6 per game over the past five. He’s also up to 8th in the league in secondary assists.)
C.J. Miles and Fred VanVleet shut things down in the fourth
The Raptors 5-man bench unit started the fourth and over the first six minutes, built the lead to 22. C.J. Miles found a groove during this stretch, hitting three 3-pointers and a layup; Delon Wright added a long 3-pointer as well.
But the fourth really was the Fred VanVleet show.
In one superb stretch about halfway through the quarter, VanVleet scored on three high-degree-of-difficulty drives, nabbed a steal and pulled down a rebound. When the Lakers didn’t realize the game was out of reach, VanVleet made sure they knew it by scoring the Raptors’ final seven points—including a banked-in 3-pointer—to quiet them down, and secure a career-high with 25 points.
How’s this for a stat line: 25 on 9-of-13 shooting (3-of-4 from 3-pt range, 4-for-4 FTs), 2 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. All in 20 minutes.
I really like what I’m seeing from Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam isn’t setting the world on fire lately, by any means. He’s scored in double figures only twice in January, and—although he hit his only attempt last night—still can’t shoot from distance (30% in January, under 20% on the season). Of the bench unit, VanVleet, Wright, Miles and even Jakob Poeltl grab more attention.
But he’s caught my eye a few times the past two games. There’s just... something to his game that’s working.
He seems to be involved in scrums and 50-50 balls frequently, even if he doesn’t come up with the ball. He can bring the ball up court, he can certainly sprint out ahead without it, he can execute that spin move of his pretty consistently. And perhaps most impressive, he’s not treating the ball like a hot potato (as he often did as a rookie) and not turning it over either (0.8 TOs per game in January).
I think perhaps it just comes down to having a consistent role and having confidence that he can make mistakes (and keep missing threes), knowing that the coaching staff trusts him. It’s given him the freedom to open his game up a little.
The other bench guys have all had big moments this year. I think Pascal’s is coming.
Julius Randle was feeling himself a bit
I’ve been waiting for Julius Randle to come into his own; he seemed to have all the tools coming out of Kentucky. It’s been a long wait, and he’s still not setting the world on fire—but 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23 minutes is solid. And he plays with extreme confidence.
He finished with 17-10-5, and threw his weight around effectively all night long. On one third-quarter play he just bullied his way straight to the rim, tossing Serge Ibaka aside like he was a 98-pound weakling.
But come on, Julius—you can’t be going after the Lithuanian Legend like that!
After an errant Randle elbow caught him in the nose, Jonas Valanciunas gave Randle a little shove on the next play and Randle took exception. A small brouhaha ensued, double technicals were handed out, and all was well...
But there was a small part of me that really wanted to see that fight shake out.
Why does that Celtics 1-game conference lead feel so big?
The Raptors are just 5-5 in their last 10, which, ultimately, is fine. It’s January and it’s been a tough stretch against some good teams that play hard.
But it is a bit of a shame that they couldn’t gain any real ground on the conference-leading Celtics, who are also 5-5 in their last 10 (and have actually lost 5 of 6).
Each team has four games between now and February 6, when the Celtics make their first trip to the ACC. Boston plays at Denver, then has three at home: New York, Atlanta and Portland.
Toronto hosts Minnesota, travels to Washington, then comes back home to face Portland and Memphis.
It would be pretty sweet to see the Raptors take over first place coming out of that game. But with the tougher schedule (and the Celtics’ two wins in hand), it’s a tall order.
That Utah loss really was a bummer.
The Lakers are a long and strong team that plays hard, but the Raptors didn’t take them lightly, never trailed after the first 3 minutes and let their bench finish the game. I’d like to see a few more wins like that before the all-star break, please!