Is it Sunday already? The Raptors finish off a wild week in which they played two of their most exciting games this season. They won against the Pistons in overtime, as DeMar DeRozan crushed Detroit’s soul with a single dunk. As for the Rockets, the fans are still buzzing.
Enter today, where the Raptors visit the struggling Knicks for a classic 1pm tip. The Knicks started out the season at a nice pace, winning 17 of their first 31 games. Since then, the Knicks are back to being sad again: they lost Kristaps Porzingis for the season, and have four G Leaguers bouncing around the rotation. On the bright side, they are lottery bound, and will add another young talent to their core this summer.
The Raptors are running out of things to prove. They’ve beaten the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Rockets, all with conviction. The Raptors’ offense is crisp and forceful, and Dwane Casey has plenty of options on defense. The team has no intentions of looking ahead, as Casey continues to harp on keeping a game-by-game approach.
Madison Square Garden is always fun, and with one of the league’s elite teams visiting, the fans will come out. DeRozan loves playing in MSG so maybe he’ll treat us to another 360 dunk.
Here are your details for today’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 1pm EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
New York - Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Lance Thomas, Enes Kanter
Toronto - OG Anunoby (foot - out), Delon Wright (toe - out)
New York - Kristaps Porzingis, Ron Baker, Joakim Noah (all three are out), Courtney Lee (probable)
Following the Raptors’ masterpiece against Houston on Friday, they may have a hard time repeating that level of focus. Against substandard competition, the Raptors typically settle into a different rhythm, choosing to play with energy on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
For example, on Tuesday versus the Atlanta Hawks, they cruised through the first three quarters, only turning it on in the fourth. It was the same story versus the Magic, as both teams played close until the last six minutes of the game at which point DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and the bench blew the doors open. The Raptors are an elite team, and can expect to get victories while scaling back in some quarters. Although that method did not work against the Knicks earlier in the year, when they lost on the road due to a disastrous third quarter, which the Knicks won 41-10.
The Raptors unmistakably adjust their energy to the competition and, with the Knicks on a freefall, a semi-respectable effort should be enough for the Raptors to pick up a win.
Knicks’ Defensive Woes
Before Kristaps Porzingis went down on February 6th, the Knicks were a middle of the pack defensive club. However, in the 11 games since then they have posted a 116.5 defensive rating — worst in the league.
The defensive slide comes as somewhat of a surprise because, other than missing Porzingis, the core roster has stayed mostly the same. In theory, the Knicks should be switchy group, positionally flexible 1 through 4. Their point guards, Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay are 6’5, and their wing defenders — Lance Thomas, Michael Beasley, and Troy Williams — are tall and mobile. It simply has not panned out. The loss of Porzingis may be bigger problem than anticipated. He was an excellent rim protector, and now, inferior defenders such as Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter are soaking up his minutes.
The Knicks have been a group of turnstiles on defense, and the Raptors should have no trouble getting open looks in their pass-happy offense.
Dwane Casey has shown little hesitation expanding his rotation this season. Whenever pressed, he is confidant players like Malcolm Miller, Lucas Nogueira, and Norman Powell will step up.
Casey’s willingness to play his full roster leaves room for some interesting decisions. OG Anunoby and Delon Wright are working their way back from injury, which opens up some minutes at the wing position. Powell and Miller have filled in admirably. Powell scored the ball well against the Pistons, and played manic defense on James Harden in Friday’s contest. Miller, along with good defense, has been steady on offense: making smart cuts, hitting shots, filling in the gaps, and setting flare screens for teammates.
In practise this week Casey said the wing position will be fluid as long as Anunoby’s out. The Raptors, if they choose, could get a look at the recent 10-day signee, Nigel Hayes. The wing rotation is unsettled, and against a lottery-bound team like the Knicks, Casey could get creative. It will be interesting to monitor how the rotation plays out in the next few weeks.