The thing about playing a basketball game in Tokyo, Japan is that, well, you may as well just play another one while you’re there. This is how most long-haul decision-making is done after all — if you’re going to travel halfway around the world for whatever reason, you should make it worth your while. As it is, the Raptors are still in Japan.
To that end, Toronto’s defending championship squad is definitely getting their time and money’s worth so far. With their first preseason game in the books — a 134-129 victory over the Rockets — the Raptors got a chance to see a little bit of what their new-look roster could do. Some quick hits: Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam are confident, Matt Thomas can shoot, Terence Davis is ready (Patrick McCaw is not), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has next-level random energy, and Norman Powell is trying to pick his spots. There’s more, but we should probably just prepare for tomorrow morning’s game.
As per the injury report, a couple of players are apparently available for the Rockets — Tyson Chandler (yes, he’s on the team now) and Gerald Green — while veteran Thabo Sefolosha will get a rest. Meanwhile, Toronto is apparently welcoming back Marc Gasol after his doubly golden summer. And of course we still haven’t gotten a look at some of the Raptors’ end-of-bench guys, namely Dewan Hernandez. We’ll see what we can see.
Now, here are the details for tomorrow’s game, along with a few things to watch for (even though it still doesn’t count).
Where to Watch
6am (yes, again) on Sportsnet
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Houston - Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela
Toronto - Kyle Lowry (out – thumb/rest)
Raptors expect Marc Gasol to play in second game against Rockets and finale in Brooklyn. Lowry out vs. Rockets. Still needs to be cleared by his thumb doctor. Team expects him either against Bulls on Sunday or vs. Nets. Logic says timing for Sunday makes that one unlikely.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) October 9, 2019
Houston - Anthony Bennett (out – knee), Michael Frazier (out – ankle), Nenê (out – adductor), Thabo Sefolosha (out - rest)
Heading into tomorrow’s game, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll see more of some of Toronto’s players, and less of others. In Tuesday’s win, we didn’t see much of Stanley Johnson, who is vying for a starting spot, or Malcolm Miller, who just wants to stay on the team. Meanwhile, Toronto gave a lot of burn to McCaw in the point guard spot (which did not work), and had Cameron Payne play exclusively with bench players down the stretch.
These are just a couple example of where we could see a minutes shift in Toronto’s second preseason game. It stands to reason that Gasol will be inserted into the starting lineup on limited minutes, and that the rest of the team’s starters will stay the same. But the bench rotation is very much a work in progress: the only person I’m comfortable giving steady minutes to right now is Terence Davis. Let’s see what that guy can do!
Gasol’s presence is not nothing for Toronto, even if it is just the preseason. The Raptors’ defense was mostly poor in the opening half of Tuesday’s contest against the Rockets (85 first half points were given up!), but that changed as the game went on. It’s the offense, particularly when VanVleet and Siakam aren’t around, that needs work. Gasol can help change that, and it’ll be interesting to see how coach Nick Nurse elects to use him in that effort.
What can Gasol do? Well, he’s a more willing long-range shooter than Ibaka (and Chris Boucher?) right now, and he’s the team’s second-best passer. For a roster made up of semi-reliable (Anunoby, Powell, Siakam) and non-shooters (RHJ, Johnson, McCaw), having a big man who can both initiate the offense and hit an open three is extremely advantageous. There’s also the matter of familiarity. Last season Gasol was brought in to help raise the Raptors’ ceiling as a complementary piece beyond the all-world abilities of Kawhi. Now, while still complementary, Gasol can help rebuild Toronto’s offense from the ground up right from the jump. Yes, it’s just another preseason game, but it’ll be fun to watch him start to do that.
Still No Lowry
But all this analysis is for naught until we can see these Raptors with Kyle Lowry on the floor. Since undergoing surgery in late July, once all his post-championship celebrations were out of the way (respect!), Lowry hasn’t been seen on the court with his teammates. He sat out the open scrimmage, he missed the first game against Houston, and now we’re here with him sitting out again.
That doesn’t mean Lowry has been completely absent though:
pascal doing what giannis and steph couldnt pic.twitter.com/zh3tTiJIY0— William Lou (@william_lou) October 7, 2019
In any case, as the injury report and Woz’s tweet up top suggest, we’re still some time away from seeing Lowry in the preseason. Given the summer he’s had, however, and his stature in Toronto, I say let Lowry rest. The real games are coming — and the Raptors will need him at his best once again.