The Toronto Raptors enter Wednesday night’s contest versus the Minnesota Timberwolves searching for a fifth consecutive win. That would match the 5-0 mark in which they started the 2015-16 season off.
This match-up is favourable for the Raps, who haven’t lost a home game against Minnesota since 2004. Overall since then, they’ve dominated the Wolves, taking 23 of 27 games. Moreover, the Timberwolves have started the season poorly from a defensive standpoint. In their first four games, they’ve allowed their opponents an average of 117 points per game despite not yet having played any of the NBA’s elite offensive juggernauts. The Raptors certainly are that, ranking in the league’s top ten and showing a ton of room to go.
The game’s key match-up will of course be between Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. There has been no shortage of drama surrounding Butler’s possible departure from Minnesota — he clearly wants something to change — but he’s still a dangerous player on the court.
Butler will be with the squad Wednesday, and will be a challenge for Toronto to contain because of his blend of skill and tenacity. As Toronto well knows, he has a long history of killing the Raps. Since the 2016-17 season Butler has averaged a remarkable 30.8 points against Toronto. On top of that, he’s likely still showcasing himself for possible trading suitors now that the Miami Heat deal is dead — so look for him to be extra engaged. If the Raptors are to extend their season-opening unbeaten run, Kawhi will need to outplay Butler.
Here are the details of tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30pm (EST)
Raptors - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Timberwolves - Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson
Raptors - Delon Wright (day-to-day/game time decision)
Timberwolves - Andrew Wiggins (day-to-day)
Andrew Wiggins (thigh) is questionable for Raptors/Wolves tomorrow. Raptors still technically listing Delon Wright (adductor) as questionable, but everyone is speaking as if he's playing.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 23, 2018
Set the Tone Defensively Throughout
The Raptors started their last game with a jolt, taking a 31-22 point lead after the first quarter. They were relentless on defense, limiting the Hornets and red-hot Kemba Walker to only 22 points in the first frame. But that tenacity waned and they ended up ceding 106 over the course of the game.
The Raptors will need to sustain their defensive effort against Minnesota because superstars Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will make them pay if they don’t. Both are capable of scoring in bursts whether from deep or in the paint. The duo has combined for 42.3 points and 15.2 rebounds per games this season. Leonard will have his hands full with Butler, as will bigs Ibaka and Siakam containing the emerging Towns. If Toronto shuts down the duo, a comfortable win feels like a virtual certainty.
Let Kawhi and Kyle Shine Again
Kawhi’s early season with the Toronto Raptors has been spectacular. In his first three games, he’s averaged 25.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He’s also shooting 45.9% from the field and a stellar 46.7% from deep. These are monster numbers, especially for someone coming back from missing almost all of the previous year. Rust — what rust?
And Kawhi’s confidence is already visibly growing as he becomes more comfortable with the Raps’ offense. For example, he used the same move three times against Charlotte to drain a pull-up three at the exact position on the court. It takes self-belief to do that. Nick Nurse is enabling Leonard’s offensive confidence, running a lot of sets through him to keep him involved.
Not only has the approach benefited the ex-Spur so far, but the entire Toronto offense is clicking as a result. The attention Leonard is attracting has allowed Lowry to get off to an amazing start. He’s averaged 21.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 10 assists per game while shooting an incredible 60% from the field and an eye-popping 57.7% from beyond the arc. These are flat-out MVP numbers for the Raps’ point guard. And he’s been superb defensively.
Early returns suggest Lowry has adjusted very well to playing with Leonard despite his angst at the off-season trade that saw best buddy DeMar DeRozan depart. With the chemistry these two have already displayed in the early going, the Timberwolves may be in for a rough night.
Contain Jimmy Butler
This bears repeating because of Butler’s history in Toronto. Never forget that he’s the guy who basically ended DeMarre Carroll’s career back in 2015. He also played a big part of the once powerful Bulls Curse. And as mentioned, Butler is particularly turned up these days. He doesn’t really care for how things are happening in Minnesota, but rather than sulk, he’s been turned up — sonning the T-Wolves young stars in practice, being all kinds of vociferous, and basically daring coach/general manager Tom Thibodeau to do something about it.
Could Butler lead the Timberwolves over the Raptors? It could happen. On the other hand, this is precisely why Toronto now has Kawhi Leonard, a player built to stop players like Butler. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch these two go at it tonight.