Coming out of the Dwane Casey trifecta, the Raptors are nicely served to be back at home and playing the Knicks. The Knicks are losers of eight of their past nine games (eking out a win yesterday against the Lakers), and are short on talent. Who is the Knicks best player? Is it Dennis Smith Jr. or Deandre Jordan. That’s not great. The Raptors will have an opportunity to win this game (I’m feeling bold).
As we saw in their loss to the Pistons yesterday, it’s not wholly reasonable to expect a complete effort from the Raptors at this point of the season. They are all but locked into the second seed, trailing Milwaukee by three games for first place. Their main focus now is to keep health and get Marc Gasol acclimated for the playoffs.
Here are your details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto - Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
New York - Emmanuel Mudiay, Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, Mario Hezonja, DeAndre Jordan
Toronto - Kyle Lowry (questionable — ankle), Serge Ibaka (out — suspension), Kawhi Leonard (out — load management)
New York - Frank Ntilikina (out — groin), Dennis Smith Jr. (day-to-day — back), Noah Vonleh (day-to-day — ankle)
Knicks Summer Plans
This upcoming free agency for the Knicks represents their most obvious path back to the playoffs. They will have two max slots available as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Khris Middleton hit the open market. Getting any two of those players would be enough for the Knicks to make the playoffs, but if they intend to make a deep playoff run they will need a few of their younger players to hit.
Since joining the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, Dennis Smith Jr. is averaging 14.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game on 41.6 percent shooting. What can he become? Can he limit his 2.9 turnovers per game (which is the most turnovers per game for a someone playing under 30 minutes)? What about the 20-year-old Mitchell Robinson and 24-year-old Damyean Dotson? They have both been impressive. Mitchell is an ultra athletic centre who tries to block any shot in his vicinity — from the rim or all the way out to the three point line. Dotson has a quick release on his three-pointer and has a few big games, scoring 28 points on 8-of-13 shooting from deep three weeks ago against the Spurs. The Knicks free agency will be the big story, but basketball is played with five players on the court. A couple of these young players will need to turn into something useful on the court.
Tonight is last game Serge Ibaka will serve on his three-game suspension. It opens the door for one of the best backup battles of the year, Chris Boucher versus Mitchell Robinson. Both players are ultra-aggressive chasing blocks. In the G-league this season, Boucher is averaging 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Similarly, Mitchell, on the Knicks, is averaging 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes. The two will surely try to out-limb each other tonight if given the chance.
And let’s not forget about Eric Moreland. The 6’10” big man is out there hustling for the Raptors while in the midst of his 10-day deal. Working in his favour: the Ibaka suspension, and a 10-minute stint in yesterday afternoon’s Pistons game. Working against him: did you watch him play defense against Detroit? Here’s hoping the Knicks’ lesser lights can help Moreland rediscover himself — the Raptors do indeed need help in the backup big spot.
Fred VanVleet Back
The real bench dad is back, folks. Fred VanVleet returned to action Sunday versus the Pistons after sitting out 12 games with a left thumb injury. Despite being under some sort of minutes restriction, FVV played well, posting 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, with four assists. — in 31 big-time minutes. Unfortunately, this minutes load for VanVleet says something about the play of recently acquired Jeremy Lin. One point of comparison between the two guards: on the season, VanVleet has averaged 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes, compared to Lin’s 3.2 turnovers per 36 minutes.
In short: VanVleet’s presence handling the ball is a welcome sight for the bench unit — and for Raptors fans everywhere. And against the Knicks, FVV may actually be able to stick to that minutes restriction.