Happy New Year, everyone! It’s time for New Year’s Day inter-conference basketball with the Toronto Raptors (27-11) and the Utah Jazz (18-19). The Raptors are coming off Sunday’s tiring (to both watch and play, probably) grind-it-out 95-89 victory against Chicago. Utah? Well, they last played on Saturday, crushing the Knicks 129-97.
The Raptors in 2019 are hoping to get all their players healthy and on the same page for what feels like the first time (or at least for a long time). And the Jazz, well, this is not the season they were hoping for. With almost half the season done, Utah is still hovering around .500 and sitting in 11th place — despite having a top-five defense in the entire league.
In any case, it’s worth noting that the last time these teams played on Nov. 5, the Raptors won 124-111. But that was when Kyle Lowry was 100 percent healthy and putting on a show — and he weirdly always shows out for games against the Jazz. Sadly, Lowry will not be playing tonight.
Let’s just get right into today’s important stuff now. Here are your game details, and things to watch for.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One (or Sportsnet Ontario), 7:30 PM
Toronto: Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Utah: Dante Exum, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
Toronto: Kyle Lowry (back) - out, Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) - out
Utah: Ricky Rubio (back) - probable, Jae Crowder (thumb) - probable, Grayson Allen (ankle) - out
Grit and Grind
It’s usually a Memphis Grizzlies thing, I know, but the Raptors are going to need every ounce of it they can get while Kyle Lowry is out. We know he’s getting closer and he’d probably like to play against DeMar on Wednesday. But, until then, the Raptors are going to need to lock in and find something.
On the season, the Raptors’ offense is still top 10 (currently ranked seventh), but the disparity between, say the lights out month of October and November, and the tough December are noticeable to say the least. Toronto played the first two months with the second-best offense in the NBA. Last month? It plummeted to 23rd. In short, the Raptors need Kyle Lowry back healthy son.
Speaking of injuries, the offense is also missing key cog Jonas Valanciunas. Tonight could be among many nights of great examples we’ve had recently of the role he plays. The Jazz’ Rudy Gobert continues to be pivotal to everything the Jazz do on both sides of the court — as defensive anchor and potent roll man.
With his size, Valanciunas is usually a natural foil to that. In his anbsense, the Raptors need Serge Ibaka to find the rhythm he had just a few weeks ago — if only to keep Gobert honest (and off the offensive glass). Like much of the Raptors’ mojo as of late, Ibaka has slowed down a bit. With Gobert planted firmly in the centre of the action, it’s on Serge to hit a groove.
Ball Handling and Shots Falling
The Raptors have good ball handlers. We’ve seen—in no particular order—Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and even Danny Green bring the ball up the court. In the macro, that’s a good thing. It means the ball hasn’t stuck so much over the course of the season for Toronto. And it means that we can trust more Raptors with the ball now and in the future. Position-less basketball and all that.
But just you wait. I think I’m getting to my point.
The Raptors averaged 18.4 assists over their last five games, which ranks last in the NBA over that time. In that same period, they’ve shot 31.5% from three-point range, 27th in the league. The shots haven’t been falling, the ball has been sticking. (Toronto averages 23 assists per game this season, 17th in the league.)
Without Kyle Lowry, both of these statistics take a hit, obviously. So, actually, what I’m trying to say is refer back to point one. The Raptors can beat this version of the Utah Jazz with the healthy players they have now — but they haven’t been making it easy on themselves. (And they really do miss Lowry.)