After a disappointing loss to DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs, the Raptors are on the upswing yet again. They won both games of an important back-to-back last weekend against Milwaukee and Indiana, getting their starting point guard back to put some zip back into a dragging offence.
Kyle Lowry’s impact in his return Sunday vs. Indiana was basically instantaneous. Like most of the games he’s played without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ modus operandi was to move the basketball. Thirty assists on 44 made buckets was exhilarating to watch after an extended stretch without Lowry, where the team relied more on Kawhi Leonard’s improvisation to get buckets.
It reminded us of the old Raptors adage, one that’s been true since 2013: while Kyle Lowry might not be the best player on the team, he’s certainly the most important.
Tonight, Raptors fans don’t have to choose between best and important. For the first time since December 9, both Lowry and Leonard are listed as active. It’s a great opportunity to build chemistry, too, as they take on the lowly Atlanta Hawks, who aren’t as blatantly tanking as the teams behind them in the East (Cleveland, Chicago, New York) but still thinking draft picks over playoffs.
It also marks the return and, yet again, possible last game in Toronto for one Vince Carter. He’s psyched us out before (the memorable video tribute is over four years old), but this really might be it for the 41-year-old, who’s averaging just 7.3 points per game in 2018-19.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the game details and what to watch for.
Where to Watch
TSN National, 7:30 PM ET
Atlanta - Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Atlanta - Kent Bazemore (out - ankle), Miles Plumlee (out - knee), Taurean Prince (out - ankle)
Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas (out - thumb)
Let the Starters Roll
With All-Star break approaching, it seems like now’s the time for Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard to start building the chemistry that’s come in fits and hiccups so far. The two have played just 21 of the Raptors’ 42 games together and haven’t done so since the aforementioned December 9 loss to Milwaukee.
Atlanta presents a good opportunity to do so. The Hawks punch a little above their weight defensively when healthy, but with Taurean Prince out due to an ankle injury, they lose a bit of versatility at the wing position. They also play fast and loose, running at the league’s quickest pace (105.50) despite a bottom seven defence.
This, combined with a home crowd at Scotiabank Arena, adds up to a great situation for the starting lineup. The Raptors can get out and run, build some confidence, and hopefully build a lead early that takes stress off the proceedings.
Coming off a season-best 23 points against Indiana (10-for-12 shooting), Norman Powell continues to be a catalyst for the bench offence in his minutes on the floor. He’s been in double-digits in three of the last four games, even moving the ball effectively with seven combined assists in the last three.
Again, considering this game should be billed as a confidence-builder (read: I expect the Raptors to win), it’d be interesting to see if Powell can continue to build his facilitator role. With a bench that’s seen its share of struggles, especially OG Anunoby and Delon Wright recently, having Powell use his hot hand for the team’s benefit would be a welcome sight.
Boucher and Moose, Please
The Hawks are many things, but they are not small. The starting frontcourt of Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins present a homeless man’s version of Duncan and Robinson, one that can be effective if left to their own devices.
Collins especially should have a favourable matchup against a smaller Raptors lineup, as he continues to be the only player in the NBA to average 18 points and ten rebounds in less than 30 minutes per game. Atlanta has also been really good when they’ve won the rebounding battle, now 7-5 in contests where they’ve brought in at least 50 boards.
This said, I’d rather this not be the game that Serge Ibaka kills himself competing with a young Hawks team. Seeing some Chris Boucher minutes early on would be welcome, as a three-centre rotation helps alleviate Ibaka from needing to be a triple threat at all times. I also think the matchups lend itself nicely to Boucher, as Dedmon isn’t as comfortable stretching out to the three-point line.