Timing is everything.
Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka suffering injuries at the start of the team’s longest road trip, including games against two title contenders and two more West playoff contenders, isn’t the greatest of timing. The fact that Nick Nurse has only consistently trusted seven players on this roster, the loss of this duo further compounds the rotation issue. Instead of slowly integrating the new additions, Nurse will be tasked with maximizing his starters’ usage, while also staggering their minutes to avoid all-bench lineups.
On the flip side, if you could pick a portion of the season for injuries to occur, wouldn’t you want it to happen in early November, rather than late March? One of the concerns heading into this road trip was around Lowry’s usage. Outside of turnovers, minutes per game is the one category you probably don’t want to see your star player leading the league in — especially in this era of player health/empowerment and load management. Missing a few games and, subsequently, easing back into a rhythm via lower minutes, should help greatly for both team and player.
The timing also works out for several other Raptors. Norm Powell, the stage is yours! After waiting behind DeMar DeRozan, then Danny Green, now Fred VanVleet, it’s Norm’s time to shine with the starters. For Chris Boucher, the time is now to follow in the footsteps of FVV and Pascal Siakam, translating G League success into valuable contribution at the NBA level. Terence Davis and Matt Thomas were names that Raptor fans had never heard of as recently as June. They now have the opportunity to maximize their time and add to the growing list of out-of-nowhere brilliant signings from Masai Ujiri.
Time has been favourable to us, Raptor fans. We were patient every time Kawhi Leonard was load managed last season. We were patient throughout the first two and half playoff rounds while FVV struggled with his shot. We were anxiously patient during Game 6 while the last 0.9 seconds took approximately four hours to elapse. These injuries suck, but time is on the side of the defending, reigning, world champions. (Take another look at the Eastern Conference if you need extra encouragement)
Now it’s time to preview this week’s games.
November 11 @ Los Angeles Clippers
I find it ironic that, if Kawhi was still on the Raptors, he’d very likely sit this game, since it’s the second of a back-to-back. With Paul George aiming to make his Clippers debut later in the week, Toronto’s a little lucky that they “only” have to deal with one superstar.
That superstar, as my co-worker eloquently stated, was “the one-night stand where you caught feelings.”
Kawhi will forever live in Raptors lore as the root of the franchise’s two biggest “what-if” questions. What if the Raptors ever had a top-3 superstar on the team? What if that superstar stayed another year to (ahem, successfully) defend the championship?
The feelings I will feel seeing Kawhi on the other side of the court will only be magnified when OG Anunoby starts guarding him. On the offensive end, Kawhi has yet to be guarded by a wing defender as excellent as OG. If OG can stay out of foul trouble, he has the defensive tools to disrupt Kawhi’s flow.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Kawhi achieved a career-high eight assists in a game against the Nets (the one where Brooklyn hit 20 triples and still lost). He topped that total twice within his first three games as a Clipper.
The absence of Lowry and Ibaka will surely be felt, but there are a couple of signs of hope. Toronto ranks 4th in threes made and 2nd in 3-pt FG%. The Clippers rank 29th in opponent’s threes and 30th in opponent’s threes attempted. Another area to watch is free throws. Toronto ranks 3rd in limiting opponents’ free throw attempts, while L.A. ranks first in free throws taken and made.
Where Raptors fans should be concerned is on the glass. The Clippers are #1 in offensive rebounds and total rebounds per game. Against the Lakers, Toronto gave up 13 offensive boards (exactly their season average, which ranks 27th). Luckily, Los Angeles could only muster 13 second-chance points. Their Staples Center roommates probably won’t be as forgiving.
Maybe it’s recency bias, but that Lakers victory was such a confidence boost - for both players and fans. The four-day layoff should warrant a little bit of rust from Doc Rivers’ squad. Raptors pounce early, jump out to a double-digit lead, fade down the stretch when Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell out-perform the Raptors’ bench, only for Pascal Siakam to show who’s better in the clutch. Kawhi’s old team defeats Kawhi’s new team, 113-110.
November 13 @ Portland Trailblazers
With Ibaka out, the Raptors head to the Moda Center where they figure to have rough time with Portland’s frontcourt of
Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside (maybe?), Skal Labissiere (sure, I guess), and Anthony Tolliver (ugh). The injury bug has hit the Blazers so hard, Mario Hezonja and Kent Bazemore are the starting forwards.
Granted, Damian Lillard is an All-NBA talent and CJ McCollum can play at All-Star levels at times. But with no one who can conceivably stay in front of Siakam — let alone someone who can protect the paint from his drives — this may be a long night for Portland fans.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Whiteside played for Nick Nurse in the G-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Despite his elite shot-blocking ability, Nurse still chose to play two other (little-known) Centers because they fit his system better. The Whiteside revenge tour last season ended with zero wins, four losses, zero free throws (out of six attempts), and a modest 10 points and 8.3 boards. Man, this Nurse fellow seems to know how to coach!
Portland will be on the back-end of a back-to-back, after playing in Sacramento the night before. Lillard could very well drop 50 points because a) he can; b) where else is the offense coming from....McCollum? c) he averages more points against Toronto than any other East team over his career. Whether or not he scores 50, the Raptors should prevail over the Blazers, 119-115. Portland is dead-last in assists per game. If you think you’re beating the Raptors with iso-ball, then we’ll just take the W and be on our merry way!
November 16 @ Dallas Mavericks
Toronto closes out their toughest road trip of the season by reuniting with Delon Wright. After trading Wright to the Grizzlies, as part of the deal the brought in Marc Gasol, Toronto had no more scheduled games vs. Memphis. There probably aren’t any hard feelings, especially considering Wright is eligible to receive a championship ring when Dallas visit Scotiabank Arena on December 22.
Alas, we’re not here to discuss Toronto’s third-string point guard. We’re here to talk about Luka Doncic.
Cool Hand Luka is averaging an absurd 27.7 / 10.8 / 9.1 on 60.9 TS% while leading the Mavericks to the #1 offense (Offensive Rating, to be exact), and a surprising spot (along with Houston) on top of the Southwest Division.
Kristaps Porzingis was a huge question mark heading into the season. He’s answered his critics by averaging 20.1 / 8.3 and 2. 6 blocks per game.
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Boban Marjanovic won the Serbian League MVP three years in a row before joining the NBA. Since joining the NBA, Boban has averaged more points per minute than Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. He also ranks 5th all-time in career PER for players that have played at least 100 games (behind other bench players: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and George Mikan).
It’s safe to say the Mavericks are one of the darlings of the NBA. Yes, Phoenix has been the most surprising, but Dallas has really shown up early in this season. They’re already mustered impressive wins over... wait a sec... outside of a win over Denver, the Mavericks haven’t really had a difficult schedule. Dallas’ victories have been over the Pelicans, Wizards, Nuggets, Cavaliers, Magic, and Grizzlies.
Not necessarily a murderer’s row, but wins all the same!
Where Dallas is going to have trouble is on the defensive end, where they’re allowing field goals, threes, assists, steals, and rebounds at bottom-10 rates. The Raptors may not have the same energy at the end of this road trip as they did when it started, but they should still be able to take advantage of Dallas’ porous defense and defeat the Mavericks 121-119.