The Raptors (13-4) visit the Magic (9-8) Tuesday evening — and this time, it appears Terrence Ross is healthy enough to play more than garbage time minutes.
Toronto is coming off their fourth largest win in franchise history, downing the Bulls 122-83 on Saturday night in a game where they rediscovered the offensive mojo that helped them reel off two six-game winning streaks before their most recent three-game skid. Chief among those returning to form was Fred VanVleet, who scored a game-high 18 points in the victory, including 4-of-7 from distance. VanVleet was shooting around 30 percent from three prior to his offensive explosion.
It begs the question: What gave him back his touch, and what changed to make him feel and look so comfortable on the floor?
It’s tough to speculate, but I have a trio of opinions: playing primarily next to Kyle Lowry for long stretches, playing a bad defense, and playing in front of his hometown crowd (Rockford is a suburb of Chicago).
I’ve been of the opinion in general that he needed a game like Saturday’s in order to regain some of the confidence he oozed last season when he finished among the finalists for Sixth Man of the Year, and hopefully this was the beginning of VanVleet rediscovering the talent that made his bet on himself such an easy one to make.
Hopefully we see more of that along the remainder of this road trip, as the Raptors are still battling the injury bug, along with some sub-par defensive lapses.
Here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas
Orlando — D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Wesley Iwundu, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto — C.J. Miles (hip — questionable), Norman Powell (shoulder dislocation — out), OG Anunoby (wrist — day-to-day)
Orlando — Timofey Mozgov (knee — out)
The last time these two teams met (back in April), Ross was dealing with a series of season long injuries that kept him out out of action for all but 24 games. In that April 8th contest, Ross played just nine minutes and scored only three points. We all felt for the guy. He was having a career year for the Raptors at the time of his trade to Orlando, finally finding his niche as a dynamite scorer off the bench before being shipped for Serge Ibaka.
This year, however, is a much different story. Healthy and playing a big role for a surprisingly decent Magic team, Ross is averaging nearly 14 points per game in just 25 minutes a night. Not only is he playing well, he’s making an impact — he nailed a dagger three just last week against the 76ers to cap off a 19-point comeback to defeat the new-look Jimmy Butler-led squad. Let’s face facts: we all love us some Terrence Ross.
Does Orlando Finally Have an... Identity?
He’s not the only one turning heads in Central Florida, though. Jeff Weltman — the former General Manager of the Raptors, now Team President of the Magic — finally decided to make Nikola Vucevic the sole bread-winning center on the team. So far this season, that decision is paying off.
Vooch, as he’s known, is having a career year, averaging a 20/10 double-double in just 30 minutes a night. He’s been a difference maker on both ends too, adding a block and steal per game, while shooting .425 from deep on 2.5 attempts.
All in all, not battling with two other bigs (when they had Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo — did I mention these two teams are connected at the hip?) has done wonders for Vucevic’s confidence. He now has a clear role and is flourishing in it.
The Injury Bug
Kyle Lowry has already played 578 minutes this season (almost 100 more than the next player — Pascal Siakam has logged 489), and while that averages out to just 34 minutes a game — a far cry from the 37 he was logging two seasons back — he’s playing in extremely odd scenarios, such as Saturday when the Raptors had a 20+ point lead.
The Raptors were well in control of the Bulls’ game toward the end of the third quarter, leading by around 25 points. The Bulls had basically waved the white flag, yet Lowry was chugging along, on pace to log over 35 minutes if he had played his usual fourth quarter rotation.
He eventually left the floor after tweaking something (ankle or calf) in his left leg — the same leg that bothered him the night before in Boston, and back on Wednesday against Detroit. With all the injuries piling up this early into the season, and with the team already being extra cautious with Kawhi Leonard, I think tonight would be a perfect game to let Lowry sit, relax and regain some strength.
With the emergence of Siakam as a legitimate scoring option, Lowry shouldn’t always be asked to handle the secondary scoring load. I can make the case that Siakam is ready to handle an increased role on offense as soon as this season — he is, after all, averaging 17 points per game on .644 shooting from the field over his last ten games.
With Kawhi presumably returning, I’d love to see what the team looks like with VanVleet running the point next to Leonard — because who knows, if Lowry keeps playing 30+ minutes night after night without a break, we may be forced into that scenario. Let’s be just as cautious with KLOE as we are with his running mate, Leonard.