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HQ Roundtable: The tough road ahead, Lowry’s scoring, breakout performances, and more

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The Raptors are pacing the league in wins, but have a tough stretch ahead. Can they maintain their strong play? The HQ panel discusses.

HQ Roundtable: The tough road ahead, Kyle Lowry scoring, breakout performances, Fred VanVleet Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another edition of the HQ Roundtable — Sully Akbari here, your host for this weekly series. If this is your first read of the HQ Roundtable, here’s the scoop: Two HQ staffers and I answer questions on the Toronto Raptors and the hottest NBA storylines. Joining me this week: Justin Robertson and Satbir Singh. Let’s hit it!

On the Raptors:

1) How important is it for the Raptors to have Kyle Lowry find his scoring touch from seasons prior?

Sully Akbari: I don’t think it’s important during the regular season, except on some occasions when the Raptors are playing key games that have an impact on the standings such as deciding a tiebreaker. So it would be nice to have Lowry’s scoring touch for those games but the Raptors are deep enough to make up for it.

Now, when it comes to the playoffs, then yes, it’ll be important for him to be putting up his usual 16-24-point nights from seasons prior. Just like every year, the game slows down, scoring will be tougher, and teams will be better prepared to face the Raptors for at least four games in a row. Hopefully, Lowry can pick up his scoring efforts when it counts the most.

Justin Robertson: At this point, I think it’s a luxury. The Raptors have won key games without him scoring 35 points or going on a tear. The team now plays a different game that makes Lowry part of the process rather than the focal point of it. Would you rather have Lowry score 40 points a game and lose, or a line of 10 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists, and win? He’ll find his touch as the season progresses and I think will be a key weapon come playoffs. Other teams won’t see it coming.

Satbir Singh: For the short term? Not that important. For the long term? They’ll need his scoring come playoff time because the best players on the best teams step up in late April into mid-June. However, what is important for both the short-term and long-term is to make sure Lowry is healthy. Sitting at home it’s tough to tell, but I don’t think Lowry’s back is anywhere close to 100 percent. The 32-year-old point guard is a bulldog and has no desire to sit/rest. It’s on the Raptors coaching staff and management to make sure Lowry is getting the proper rest, at least for the second half of the season.

Lowry’s 4.7 field goals made per game and 11.3 attempts per game are his lowest since his first season with the Raptors in 2012-2013, and his 31 percent from three is his lowest since the 2009-10 season with Houston.

Come playoff time, I’m not sure Serge Ibaka can be your second-best scorer for a deep run. And taking nothing away from Pascal Siakam, but Lowry’s scoring is needed. For now, everything is fine – not sure it will be down the road.

2) What are your expectations regarding the Raptors’ next four games (at IND, at HOU, at DAL, vs. MIL)?

Sully: It didn’t concern me when the news came out that Kawhi Leonard sat out last night’s game against the Kings and will sit out tonight’s game against the Pacers. I think the Pacers game is a toss-up, so it was the right move to rest him and prepare for the following three games.

I expect a well-rested Leonard along with the others to play their best basketball during this tough stretch. I am at the very least expecting that they will be able to contain James Harden and the Rockets’ scorching offence and the high-flying Mavericks, and hopefully finish off the Bucks at home — where Milwaukee is leading the season series two games to one.

Justin: It’s an intriguing stretch. I am writing this prior to the Kings game, but I’m predicting wins against them and Mavericks. Just because we’re at that stage of the year where the Raptors should be taking care of middling teams (Kings 24-24, Mavs 21-26). Still, the Kings and Mavs are no easy beats either and would be considered danger games. The Pacers and Rockets away will be tough but good tests to see how they measure up to some hyped up matches. Can Kawhi and co. stop Harden? Then there’s the Bucks, a team they seem to match up well against. Given the expectations of the Raptors this year, they should win four-of-five from that stretch. At 36-13, the standard has been set.

Satbir: The Raptors back-to-back with Sacramento and Indiana is their last before the All-Star break, and they only have two more following the time off. Writing this prior to the Kings game, they can’t be taken lightly, and it won’t be easy having to travel to Indiana on the backend, followed by the two road games against Houston and Dallas. I’m okay if the Raptors split the first four before playing Milwaukee. I’m also okay if we rest Kawhi and another starter (see question above and sit Lowry) versus Indiana. Also, take note that Houston is playing .500 basketball through their first 10 games in January.

For Milwaukee, they close the first half of the season with eight road games in their final 11. That includes a five-game road trip, and the third game being their contest versus the Raptors. So, I’m cool if the Raptors rest some guys throughout the first four games prior. Ultimately, I don’t care what the record is after the first four as long as it’s not 0-4 — but I’m hoping for 2-2. I do however, want to beat the Bucks. So, rest everyone and have all-hands-on-deck for January 31.

3) Danny Green’s breakout performance against the Memphis Grizzlies was unexpected. Who’ll have the next breakout game — and when?

Sully: I can see Pascal Siakam going off against the Houston Rockets this Friday night. With Houston thin in the frontcourt, Siakam could feast on both ends of the floor — scoring points with ease, grabbing boards, and with his defensive versatility, he can stretch out to the three-point line to prevent guys like P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green or James Ennis III, Gary Clark from draining the three-ball as well as stopping Nene and Kenneth Faried from getting buckets inside the paint. Taking all this into account, I think Siakam goes for 25 points on 9-for-16 from the field to go along with 14 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks.

Justin: I’m not sure when this breakout will happen — hopefully, playoffs in a Game 7! — but I think the roller-coaster season that OG Anunoby has had has to be the next break out guy. Maybe this is a 2019-20 discussion but I’m predicting a line of 25 points on 54 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. I think he’s capable of a near triple-double line if he can find the same confidence Siakam discovered this season.

Satbir: Kyle Lowry back in Houston. Over his last six games versus his former team, Lowry is averaging 18.3 points and 7.2 assists – including a 30-point game in last season’s game on March 9, 2018. Lowry doesn’t have a double-double versus his former team yet, but he’s been one or two assists shy three times in the last six versus the Rockets.

Like I said above, Lowry probably isn’t healthy. But, if there’s one person that could use a breakout game it’s number 7. The below numbers wouldn’t normally be a breakout game for Lowry in past seasons, but he’s yet to score 20 points in January, and only has one game with more than nine assists this month. (It’s two now as he recorded nine assists last night against the Kings.) I’m going to predict he records 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting, nine assists, and six rebounds.

Around the NBA:

1) What are your thoughts on the NBA All-Star draft being televised?

Sully: After the letdown of the All-Star draft not being televised last season, I was stoked to hear they were going to televise it. However, that changed when I found how the draft is going to be televised. Basically, what will happen is the top-two vote getters from each conference will be the team captains and draft from a pool of the 22 other All-Stars. It’ll just be the two captains announcing their picks while the other players won’t be participating as they will be either with their team playing a game or not. Where is the fun in that? The draft should have been conducted where all the All-Stars are together on live-set and the team captains draft each player one by one on live TV! We fans can’t have it all, so this is the least we’re going to get.

Justin: It’s hard to get excited about the All-Star Weekend. It’s become such a corporate push that most NBA die-hards can’t get seats. Which sucks. The fans make the crowd and atmosphere and without it, the true flavour of the weekend is lost. The dunk contest is the best thing about the whole event but aside from that, not even a televised All-Star draft will pique my interest.

Satbir: Personally, I’m not big on the All-Star game, so this makes no difference to me. It’s cool for the fans that do care, and it’s a great way for the NBA to make more money. Will I tune in? No. I probably won’t even know it’s on television until I go on Twitter and people are talking about it.

I’ll still tune in for the Saturday night portion of the All-Star weekend, so let me know when they announce the participants for the three-point competition and the (not-so-great-anymore) dunk contest.

2) James Harden’s style of play can be divisive. Strictly from an aesthetic point of view, which current non-Raptor would you say plays the game beautifully?

Sully: I personally think Harden’s play is aesthetically pleasing but aside from him, I would choose Kyrie Irving. I hate that he plays for the Celtics but there is no denying how pretty he plays the game of basketball. Irving puts on a show night-in and night-out — whether that would be his incredible shot-making, his killer crossover moves, or his creative/fancy finishes around the rim, he never seems to disappoint (other than who he plays for) so, here’s to him hopefully signing with another team this upcoming offseason!

Justin: It’s gotta be Nikola Jokic. He’s a big that shoots long and dishes off graceful assists. He’s been called one of the best passers in the NBA for a reason - through traffic, no-look, first-option, overhead. In order to display unselfish team-first acts, combined with monster abilities to stuff the stat sheet, you need to own specific skills that can be flexible according to a situation or play. And in the process, Jokic seems to make it all look easy.

Satbir: One of the most underrated and underappreciated players, Jrue Holiday. Now, Holiday won’t ever be the number one guy on a team, nor should he be the number two if you want to contend. However, he’s a perfect number three guy if you want to have a point guard that gets everyone involved and can score at an efficient rate.

Holiday could work on his three-point shooting, and his assists per game rank in the top-five of the NBA because he plays with Anthony Davis, but most point guards would see an increase in assists playing alongside a talented big man. Holiday is a sound point guard and plays his role well, so he’s my selection of a player that plays the game beautifully.

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That concludes this week’s edition of the HQ Roundtable! Got any questions in mind for us to discuss? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll look to include your question in the upcoming discussion. For now, keep your eyes peeled for the Raptors’ upcoming four-game stretch.