The Raptors are now back in more ways than one — except for the one that really, really matters. For one, the squad has returned to the western hemisphere and will be playing a contest at a reasonable evening time (6pm), as opposed to six o’clock in the morning. And for two, they’re back in Toronto. I’d love to give you a third thing here and say the team is fully healthy and ready, but that’s not quite the case.
For the third straight contest, Toronto may be without the services of Kyle Lowry. He’s listed as questionable for today vs. the Chicago Bulls, still waiting for official clearance from the wrist surgery he had in late July. Meanwhile, his veteran counterpart Marc Gasol will for sure sit out this evening’s game to rest.
The Bulls, on the other hand, appear to be having some bad luck with hamstrings. And they’ve also lost all three of their preseason games to this point. Still, both squads are playing out their preseason string, figuring things out, and getting closer to everything being back to the way it’s supposed to be. We hope.
Here are the details for tonight’s game and some things to watch for:
Where to Watch
TSN at 6pm EST
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Chicago - Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Cristiano Felicio
Toronto - Marc Gasol (out - rest), Kyle Lowry (questionable - wrist)
Chicago - Shaquille Harrison (out - hamstring), Chandler Hutchison (out - hamstring), Wendell Carter Jr. (probable - tailbone), Otto Porter (probable - hamstring)
More Of The Same
What we’d like to see in this evening’s game is more proof that three pillars of the Raptors will continue doing what they’ve been doing. I’m talking about Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet. Each player will have their own specific challange vs. the Bulls. For Siakam, he should be able to work on Markkanen on offense, but he’ll have to keep track of him on defense (to say nothing of the roaming Felicio). Similarly, Powell will have an opportunity to have a two-guard gun-off with LaVine, but it behooves him to show he can be the better defensive player. And VanVleet, well, he’ll have to deal with Satoransky’s 6’7” frame (or LaVine’s 6’5” height).
The good news here is that all three players have shown an ability to deliver so far this preaseason. VanVleet looks healthy, and has been able to burst by opponents while both setting up teammates, finishing at the rim, and bombing deep threes. Powell is reaching peak Jack-It-Up mode already, which the Raptors need. And Siakam is still doing his thing. With him the question is: can he do even more? Against the Bulls that may be the case.
Will They Figure It Out?
With those aforementioned Raptors established, it’s time to sort out the rest of the squad — namely Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Matt Thomas. Heading into the preseason it made sense for all four to be involved in the Raptors’ rotation (with Terence Davis a bit more of an unknown question mark). So far though, we’ve only come to understand some of how they fit.
For example: RHJ through two games has proven that he can give the Raptors a dose of defensive (and chaos) energy at the 3-4 spot. He’s a reckless, whirling dirvish out there, but that loud play can help in small doses. His backcourt counterpart Thomas, who doesn’t necessarily have many defensive skills, can shoot — though he’s gone 4-for-12 from the field through two games, which is not the 99 percent we were promised (hah). As for McCaw and Johnson, well, you tell me? What can they do? What are they supposed to be doing? Right now Johnson is playing himself out of the rotation, and McCaw is looking like exactly the same problematic (re: frustrating as all get out) player he was last season in Toronto.
The Bright Home Lights
I personally love it when the Raptors have a preseason game in Toronto. They’ve felt somewhat few and far between the last few years, with the squad using the preseason as a way to take a tour of the world in some way or the other. (Everyone remembers Hawaiian shirt Dwane Casey, right?) So now, after those two games in Japan, it’s cool to have the Raptors back at home for one free game before the season starts in earnest. (They have one more preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, Oct. 18th, and then it’s time for the real stuff.)
Which brings me to my next point, one I haven’t made until now: this will be the first time to see the defending champion Raptors on the court in Toronto since Game 5 of the Finals, when they were on their way to becoming the defending champion Raptors. It’s still just a lot of fun to say — even if the banner raising doesn’t happen until October 22nd’s homeopener. We wait and watch!