What Raptor fans thought would be an easy going run of games in the final stretch of the season has turned out to be quite the opposite. After a big win following the All-Star break against the Spurs, Toronto has gone 3-3 over their last six. On paper, the Raptors maybe could have gone 6-0. But their opponents have been playing well above their season-long levels.
Case in point: prior to their win against Toronto, Orlando had won five of six (and shortly after had an impressive win against Golden State). Portland was riding a 5-game win streak before stepping into the Scotiabank Arena. The Pistons were 8-2 over their last 10 before Toronto, and the Rockets finally got healthy and currently hold the longest win streak in the league at seven games.
The Miami Heat seem to be hitting their stride too. They’ve won give of their last six — with the one loss coming against the streaking Rockets. Over the last six games, the only teams with higher net ratings are coincidentally the last two teams to beat Toronto, Detroit and Houston. We all remember the 2016-17 season, in which the Heat started 11-30, then went on to win 30 of their next 41. Miami is on the second game of a season-defining five-game homestand in which they play Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, and today, Toronto.
Toronto are 2-0 against Miami this season, winning by 10 in Toronto and by two in Miami. Currently, the Heat hold the 8th place in the Eastern conference and are only two games behind the Brooklyn Nets. With Kawhi Leonard out again and Miami playing great basketball, can Toronto tough it out on the front end of a back to back? Here are the details for today’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 3:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Miami – Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (thumb – OUT), Kawhi Leonard (load management – OUT)
Miami – None
Goran Dragic, Raptor Killer
It’s been an injury-riddled season for the 10-year vet. Dragic has only played 19 out a possible 65 for Miami and is putting up a little more than 15 points and four assist per game. But he’s finally healthy.
Since Dragic’s return from a right knee injury, he’s had two big game against Western Conference finalists. In the win against Golden State, Dragic went off for 27 points off the bench, all in just 20 minutes of action. Against Houston, Dragic poured in 21 points in 24 minutes. In both games he was a +15 and +13. Raptor fans remember his gritty, hard-nosed, play in the 2016 Conference Semi-finals and know very well what he’s capable of doing whenever he sees Raptor red.
For most of the season, Toronto’s depth has proven to be a strong point. Since the trade that sent Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and C.J. Miles to Memphis in exchange for Marc Gasol, the depth has not quite been the same.
Obviously you expect to see a breaking-in period with Gasol, as well as with the addition of Jeremy Lin and the loss of nearly a third of the roster, but the Raptors as a whole have not responded their usual way this season. We see Pascal Siakam shoulder a larger load in Kawhi’s absence but it hasn’t been enough in the last two games Leonard has missed. Even a herculean effort from Kyle Lowry in Detroit wasn’t enough to win against the Pistons. We’ll see if the trade-off of sitting Leonard now is worth it in the playoffs, but for now Toronto is fluttering.
OG Oh My!
OG Anunoby might be playing his best basketball of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time. While it doesn’t necessarily show in the numbers, from the eye test Anunoby has been shooting better, defending better, and playing with more force and confidence.
Against the Pistons, Anunoby’s tip-in off a Kyle Lowry miss tied the game. He did have a questionable shot late in that game as well, but it’s forgiven (at least in my case) because of how well he played. Toronto’s playoff rotation will almost definitely have him playing minutes as a small or power forward. And if OG can continue his strong play of late, he may be closing games too. Keep an eye on him today in place of Kawhi.