Well, if things weren’t bumpy in Raptor fan-land after the Houston game, they certainly are now. Whether or not the same goes for the team is a mystery. Nick Nurse isn’t quite as worried (although he is the face of the franchise, after all), Kawhi Leonard is his usual poker-faced self and the youth group continues to sacrifice for the team on a nightly basis. However — one name we haven’t heard from in recent weeks is Masai Ujiri.
In the past, he’d act like a vocal lighthouse when it seemed the ship was lost at sea (although, in any case, I do not think the ship is lost), to calm fans down with his charisma and steady hand. This year, we’ve not heard a word since his NBA Africa Game. The level of uncertainty among fans is palpable, and because nobody has stepped up within the organization (save Danny Green, adopted National Treasure) to assure the fans that everything is going as plan. So, silence really is deafening in this matter.
In the vacuum of assurance, wild fan theories have been thrown about. Lowry must be traded. Valanciunas isn’t important, Kawhi should be dealt! The organization may not be panicked, but the fans certainly are.
Now, to put it into perspective, January has not been the greatest month in terms of a momentum-building stretch — even the optimist will agree to that. But to the pessimist, if this team isn’t winning 22 out of 23 games, then the team is failing — there is no grey area.
So sure, we’ve lost against top tier competition in four straight games since Jonas Valanciunas went down with injury. But we’re 10-7 in January, and it’s long been accepted that Januaries are when most teams — contenders or otherwise — begin to falter, before rallying and playing the top-notch basketball that they’re capable of playing.
The LA Clippers come into Sundays matinee matchup having lost eight of their last 12 games, once again, because January takes no prisoners. If there were a game the Raptors needed to win, this will be the one. I just hope Lawrence Frank’s courtside ticket is deemed invalid at the gates.
With most of the NBA chatter surrounding trades and trade requests this week, the Raptors have been rumored to be involved in more ways than one — particularly in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. Whether there’s truth to that (and not speculation) remains to be seen.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 3p.m.
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Los Angeles — Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat
Toronto — Jonas Valanciunas (Thumb)
Los Angeles — Danilo Gallinari (Back), Luc Mbah a Moute (Knee)
The Perfect Matchup
While most of the Clippers weapons stand in the front court, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, two of those three can really shoot the ball at an extraodinary rate. Harris is shooting .430 from deep (on nearly five attempts) and Gallinari (who plays Power Forward some nights) shoots a blistering .446 on 5.5 attemps. Lucky for Toronto, Gallinari seems unlikely to play Sunday after being ruled out of Saturday’s game with a hip injury.
Enter Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been less than ideal guarding bigs who can shoot in recent weeks, and I personally attribute this drop off in effectiveness to having to play upwards of 30 minutes per game in the stead of Jonas Valanciunas. Without being able to rest as he should, Ibaka is playing tired, and subsequently has really become swiss chesse defensively.
The Raptors need to dig and dig often when the ball goes into the hands of Tobias Harris. Play him aggressively, play him and force him to make passes.
As a fellow Canadian, Gilgeous-Alexander should be a top priority. Hell, it might even mean playing Delon Wright — a perfect antidote to Shai’s length, speed and wiry-strength — to guard the rookie. Alexander has proven to be an NBA star in the making; a physical carbon copy of Wright in many ways. He gets to the rim at will, makes veteran passes and knows how to avoid mistakes.
For the Raptors sake, I hope Nick Nurse has answer for the sensation, because if he goes off, and the Raptors lose — it won’t be long before fans really begin to question the ability of the current team — Kawhi or not.
Lawrence Frank — the Super Villain
We all heard the story: Clippers President has been stalking Kawhi Leonard since game one. I honestly don’t know if that’s legal, because it’s practically unprecedented. What do you do? Turn down his ticket?
Either way, The best deterrent in keeping Frank at home for the rest of the season is to give him zero reason to come back to the ScotiaBank Arena. We need to shellac him and his team so that he’s so embarrassed that he’d dare step foot in the SBA never again. Let’s give him a welcome colder than the air outside and hope he leaves halfway through the game.
Stay warm Ladies and Gents!