TSN’s Josh Lewenberg recently reported the Raptors are taking the long view with Kawhi Leonard’s load maintenance program. Toronto has never had a superstar of Leonard’s calibre, and they’re not taking any chances with his health. Over the first 10 games, Kawhi has missed one half of each of the team’s first three back-to-backs.
Among the many benefits of having a squad as deep as the Raptors, is that this team can afford to allow Leonard to take a night off. Toronto can trot out a lineup based solely on being top-20 in various categories: Serge Ibaka (1.6 blocks/gm, #16), Jonas Valaniunas (27.4 PER, #6), Pascal Siakam (.609 FG%, #11), Kyle Lowry (11.2 assists/gm, #1), Danny Green (2.9 3PTM/gm, #10).
I love the approach the team is taking with Leonard. This team has had enough regular season success to know it means nothing if it doesn’t translate to success in April, May, or June.
I also absolutely hate the approach the team is taking with Leonard because it screws up my weekly previews! How the heck am I supposed to make accurate predictions and supply you with relevant stats and info, if the star of the show is resting?!? All right, rant complete. My first-world problem will subside with every Raptor victory. Suffice to say, all of these predictions assume Kawhi plays.
Kawhi on resting in back-to-backs: "You want to play, but I've been through the league long enough to know where the important games are, and that's in April, May and June."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 1, 2018
November 5 @ Utah Jazz
Toronto has won four of the last five visits to Utah, and eight of the last ten meetings overall. In their last match-up on January 26, the Raptors appeared to be headed to victory — up 3, at home, with possession and under a minute to play. What happened next was not for the faint of heart:
- Kyle Lowry misses a mid-range jumper;
- Donovan Mitchell corrals rebound, sprints out on one-man fast break, draws foul from Lowry and nails 2 free-throws;
- DeMar DeRozan misses a mid-range jumper;
- Mitchell, who had been lighting up the Raptors all game (26 points, 4 triples), is guarded by Delon Wright and sees Lowry hedge over to double-team. He quickly zips a pass to Lowry’s man, Ricky Rubio, who drains the open 3;
- DeRozan misses a mid-range jumper — ball game over.
Let’s be honest. If that exact scenario were to play out again on Monday, the offensive plays could all end the same way, with three consecutive mid-range shots. Whether or not those hypothetical shots were to fall this time is not the rabbit hole I’m choosing to enter. Now, swap Wright for Leonard and Lowry no longer needs to double-team. Go one play back and insert Siakam for the lead-footed Jonas Valanciunas and Mitchell probably isn’t the fastest man down the court.
With Mitchell ruled out, the Jazz will be without their leading scorer (22.4 pts/gm) and floor general (team-high 29.7% usage rate). Throw in the mini-tailspin the team is on — losers of three straight — and that adds up to a Raptors victory, 107 - 99.
November 7 @ Sacramento Kings
Toronto wraps up their first road trip of the season with a visit to one of the fastest, highest scoring teams in the league [checks schedule] the Sacramento Kings?!?!? Dave Joerger has his squad playing at break-neck speed (2nd in pace), while piling up the points (119.8 pts/gm, 3rd in the NBA). While their 6-4 record and current playoff position may look nice, the reality is this team has been taking advantage of an early-season schedule. Five of the six victories were against teams that are currently NOT above .500. When facing legit playoff teams, the Kings have been blown out by 14 (in Denver), 20 (in New Orleans), and 35 (in Milwaukee). Toronto won each of last season’s match-ups by 15.
The top three teams last season, in terms of Pace, were the Pelicans, Lakers, and Suns. Toronto swept all of them. If there are any lingering concerns about how the Raptors will handle the Kings’ pace, simply re-watch the first quarter of Sunday’s Lakers game and tell me Toronto won’t be able to keep up. The Raptors finish up their 4-game trip with an easy victory, 121 - 106.
November 10 vs. New York Knicks
How nice of the NBA to welcome the Raptors back home from a western road trip with a gift of a match-up: the New York Knicks. Toronto has owned the series of late, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings — the only loss occurring two seasons ago, when New York destroyed Toronto behind a record-setting 41-10 third quarter. Coveted rookie Kevin Knox has been out since October 20 with a left ankle sprain. Kristaps Porzingis (remember him?) is still out after tearing his left ACL last season. He may not return at all this season. The starting lineup is a mishmash of castaways and probably lead the league in “who the hell is that” questions from casual NBA fans. The top five Knicks in terms of playing time this season are Tim Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson, Frank Ntilikina, Enes Kanter, and Allonzo Trier. That was not a joke. The joke was Sunday’s loss to the equally embarrassing Washington Wizards.
If you’re looking for a surprise prediction, then you’ve got the wrong article. Toronto spent all of last season feasting on lottery-bound teams, and this season has started in that same direction. Raptors blow out the Knicks, 130 - 109.