Amidst the insanity of this insane NBA trade deadline, did you forget the Raptors are actually playing an NBA game today? I can’t say I blame you! But playing they are, down in Atlanta against the Hawks for what seems like the 14th time this season. Seriously, haven’t we had that many Vince Carter retrospectives already? And yet they've only played twice! How is this possible?
Anyway, the Raptors are coming off two quality wins against the Clippers and 76ers, and the Hawks, well, they’ve also got two straight wins... against somewhat, er, less stiff competition, in the Suns and the Wizards. However, did you know that the Hawks are actually not terrible all of a sudden? They’re 12-12 over the last month-and-a-half!
The Raptors, of course, are considerably better than that (16-8 over their last 24, to compare) and are both deeper and more talented than the Hawks. It should be an easy Raptors victory, but as they say... that’s why they play the games!
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Atlanta - Taurean Prince, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Kevin Huerter, Trae Young
Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas (questionable - thumb) (that’s it?) (really, seriously, that’s it?!?!)
Atlanta - Miles Plumlee (questionable - knee)
Return of the Big Man
Is it possible? Could Jonas Valanciunas make his 2019 debut tonight in Atlanta? As of this writing the Raptors are still listing him as “questionable,” so, there’s a chance! Maybe even a good chance!
Man oh man, has he been missed. Nothing against Greg Monroe, but Moose has been... well, pretty much exactly what you'd expect from your third stringer. This team needs a healthy JV in the lineup to reach its true potential. From his screening on the perimeter, to scoring off perfectly timed pocket passes from Kyle Lowry, to his banging with opposing bigs, to his rebounding, he does so many positive things that the Raptors just haven’t been able to replicate. (Personally, I miss the pump fakes most of all.)
Valanciunas has his deficiencies of course, and this athletic Atlanta team isn't an ideal matchup for him. But to get him a few minutes of game action? I would love to see it.
Putting it Away Early
As I write this, the Raptors have not yet detonated their line-up as part of this year’s trade deadline festivities, so I can only write with the current roster in mind. If no deals happen today, the Raptors might lose something of an edge heading into the game; the trade deadline keeps everyone on the edge of their seat. Players may not be hanging off every Woj tweet like we are, but they know what’s happening out there, and it affects them, and their families, in a very significant way. It’s stressful.
So there will likely be an adrenalin release after the deadline, a relief in the stability of staying put, and that might make players want to coast a bit tonight. As the Raptors found the last time these two teams played, the Hawks won’t roll over, so it behooves the Raptors to come out hard and put the Hawks away early.
Having written that of course, I’m sure the mega trade will go down any minute...
Keeping an Eye on Kyle
Whether you believe them or not, the Raptor whose name has been in trade rumours the most this week has been Kyle Lowry. We all know that Kyle is an emotional guy, and those emotions fuel him, for better and for worse. For example, playing in his home town of Philly always brings the best out of him, and he had a great game on Tuesday. Will not getting traded (again, as of this writing) affect him tonight?
On the other hand, Kyle’s played well against Atlanta, averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 assists in Toronto’s two wins. He’ll have his hands full with the reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, though; Trae Young had 19 points, five rebounds and four assists the last time these two teams played.
All of which is to say: As always, as Kyle goes, so go the Raptors.