The Raptors first two games in February, a tight loss to Wizards in frustrating fashion, and blow out of the Trail Blazers is representative of their up and down January. The Raptors have failed to put together any sort of consistent momentum recently, having not won three in a row since January 5th. With the turn of the calendar, you would hope the Raptors can string together some consistent efforts. The schedule isn’t entirely tedious either as we anticipate a marquee game against the Boston Celtics Tuesday, and look ahead to trade deadline and All-Star weekend. But they can’t forgot about the opponent in front of them and a banged up Memphis Grizzlies team, is winners of five of their last ten games.
If you are searching for consistency, a noon tip might not be the best way to facilitate that. The Raptors have well documented troubles with early starts. They seemingly lose every playoff matinee and although a win today wouldn’t erase any playoff struggles, Dwane Casey is well aware that the Raptors often come out flat for early games. It is important the players respond to Casey’s inevitable preaching prior to tip off.
Either way, a world class effort might not be necessary, as the Grizzlies are very light on talent and bodies. Mike Conley is out for the season with a foot injury, and Tyreke Evans isn’t travelling with the team because he’s likely to be traded next week.
On paper Memphis doesn’t capture your full attention, but they will definitely capture Casey’s.
Here are your details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
TSN 4, 12pm EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Memphis - Andrew Harrison, Wayne Selden Jr., Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin, Marc Gasol
Toronto - C.J. Miles (questionable)
Memphis - Mike Conley (foot — out), Tyreke Evans (trade candidate — out), Chandler Parsons (knee — out), Deyonta Davis (knee — probable)
Battle of Big Men
Jonas Valanciunas and Marc Gasol perfectly represent the ever evolving centre position. Formerly two of the most old-school ballers you could find, they have evolved their game to handle demands of modern day basketball. Both lost weight, gained mobility, and are making plays around the three point line — albeit it in different ways.
Gasol shoots more threes (216 attempts) and initiates most Grizzlies action’s by changing screen angles until a play develops or by receiving the ball far out in the high-post, where he can pass or shoot. He is very comfortable out there, something Valanciunas is just starting to develop. The Lithuanian has begun to fire away threes on a game-to-game basis, and is reaping the rewards. He is shooting 46.9% from three on 32 attempts. If teams start to close out, his game will be challenged. Can he pump fake and make plays off the dribble? Gasol can, and it remains to be seen how comfortable Valanciunas will be making plays beyond the arc. Either way, it will be a fun match-up between two skilled big men. I am dreaming of a Valanciunas dunk on Gasol.
The Grizzlies do not particularly excel at any aspect of the game. They are 24th in offensive rating, 18th in defensive rating, and rebound poorly. What they have, though, is young talent playing big minutes. Andrew Harrison, a sophomore, and (Canadian!) Dillon Brooks, a rookie, have carved out a role for themselves.
Harrison is improving upon a rookie season, making leaps in field goal, three point, and free throw percentages. He is also coming into the game on a nice passing streak, averaging 5.8 assists in his last five games. Brooks, 6’6” and 220 pounds, is a slasher with a solid catch-and-shoot game. A total of 35.4% of his shots are catch-and-shoot, but he is most effective going to the rim where; on 126 attempts from 5 feet and in, he hit 63.5% of his shots. Young players often have trouble finding consistency on a game-to-game basis, but big games from them will significantly lift the team’s floor.
Memphis Missing Stars
Memphis has gone 5-5 in their last ten games with Mike Conley out and Tyreke Evans not playing in four. Dwane Casey is a big believer that when a team is down stars, other players pick up the slack and rally around each other. Similar to the Thursday’s Wizards game without John Wall, look for Memphis to rally around each other.
If Memphis’s close loss against the Pistons last Thursday was any indication, this team will fight and scrap. Marc Gasol had a poor shooting night, going 6-of-21 from the field, but Andrew Harrison and Deyonta Davis stepped up and had big games. No Conley, no Evans, and a poor shooting night from Marc Gasol typically won’t give your team a chance to win but the Grizzlies still have a strong “grind it out” culture. Casey will harp on the Raptors to come out of the gates with force, like they did Friday against Portland. If not, expect a quick timeout and an unforgiving Casey post game.