DeMar DeRozan’s return on Friday night was a whirlwind of emotions for Raptor fans. The 9-year Raptor and holder of multiple franchise records was in the building as an opponent for the first time in his career.
The Toronto faithful gave DeMar a standing ovation on his way to the court, in his introduction as a starter, and most importantly during a video tribute after the first timeout. Much like everyone present in the arena, DeMar’s eyes were focused on the jumbotron above to the video tribute of his nine seasons in Toronto.
It was strange seeing him on the court in another jersey and at times I caught myself frequently calling for fouls on his behalf. As the game wore on, he played like the man we all grew accustomed to watching. Yet, one of the final possessions was straight from a movie. His friend and long-time teammate, along with the person who he was traded for, combined to strip him of the ball in the waning moments of a close game. In a game that could succinctly summarize his tenure as a Raptor, DeRozan gave one last parting gift in a night full of emotions.
The feelings that accompanied DeMar’s return don’t end when the buzzer sounds. It’s something that can linger on into the next game. After such an emotional game, and in between a game against a division rival, this one has all the markings of a potential letdown. The worst thing about this is that it’s not just another bottom half eastern conference team – its one fighting for a playoff position. This is an Orlando Magic team that was very recently on a 5-game win streak, and only lost to a Chicago team (who also took down Boston last night) who won due to a mental mistake in the final seconds by Aaron Gordon.
Orlando’s past two games against Toronto have been much harder than anticipated. The first game Toronto won thanks to a Danny Green game winner. And the second one? One of the worst offensive showings this season for Toronto which culminated to 116-87 drumming in a win for Orlando. Steve Clifford has the team fighting for a playoff position for the first time in years. The growth of Jonathan Isaac and All-Star season from Nikola Vucevic has given Orlando fans something to cheer about. For Toronto, it’s about gearing up for the final push into the playoffs and that means not having any slippage. Here are the details for today’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 3:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Orlando – D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (thumb – OUT)
Orlando – Mohamed Bamba (leg – OUT), Markelle Fultz (shoulder – OUT), Timofey Mozgov (knee – OUT)
Friday’s game against San Antonio was clearly Marc Gasol’s most frustrating in a Raptor jersey. He dealt with foul trouble all game but still managed to finish with 4 points, 6 assist, and 7 rebounds. He shot only 2-7 but we can already see the impact he can bring passing the ball.
He’s developed a nice little partnership with Norm Powell and often looks for him on cuts and in transition. However, I really want to see him get more minutes with Kyle Lowry. When Kyle gets going, we see how he can impact the flow of the game and push the pace. The playoffs are a slower game and having another playmaker like Gasol in the half court can ease the pressure on Kyle. Hopefully we can see more Kyle-Marc minutes in the coming games.
Magic moving up
The Magic have been playing great ball this month. They’re 6-2 with impressive wins in Milwaukee and against the Nets. They’re also moving up the standings and are only 1.5 out of the 8th and final playoff spot.
Seems like Orlando is finally moving in the right direction. Nikola Vucevic was their first all-star since Dwight Howard. Their trade with Philadelphia to acquire Markelle Fultz has been applauded across the association. They’re right in the thick of a playoff push and finally have something to play for after the all-star break. Jonathan Isaac has shown the potential to defend positions 1 through 4. They have a nice young core and finally looking like an upstart team thanks to new coaching. Hopefully things keep moving in an upward direction for the franchise.
Just a little bit of Linsanity
The first three quarters for Jeremy Lin on Friday night were not pretty to say the least. He started the game 0-5 before finally breaking out of his early game slump in the fourth. His fourth quarter minutes were crucial in keeping Toronto in the game. He scored 9 of his 11 in the fourth and help the bench (who got outscored 60-26) keep pace with the Spurs.
This could be a good sign for the Raptors. Often, we see the squad go through long scoring droughts, especially when the bench is on the court. If Toronto can have Lin get to the line and create opportunities for the bench down the stretch, Toronto is in a much more advantageous position for the playoffs.