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Raptors visit the lowly Knicks: Preview, start time, and more

Toronto looks to gift the Knicks more lottery balls this Thursday night, while keeping their own winning momentum going.

Toronto Raptors v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Raptors play both the Bulls and the Knicks in one week? Basketball fans, you’re in for a treat! We get to see how the Raptors fare against two of the most exciting Eastern Conference powerhouses, complete with Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Ros—wait, what year is it? You’re telling me this isn’t 2012?

Hmm. Oh well, look on the bright side: the Knicks roster is chock-full of electrifying young talent, including the original unicorn himself, the Latvian Legend, Kristaps Porzing—wait, he got traded? For who?!

Welp, I tried to be optimistic but good lord, this team is a mess. The Knicks currently sport the worst record in basketball and carry a roster with less than a handful of players who will still be in the league in five years. In fact, things are so dire in New York that head coach David Fizdale recently went on record saying that his team’s defense (currently third worst in the league) will improve — once they get better players. Yes, that was an actual thing a real, NBA coach said. But hey, at least Fizdale believes in his system! Confidence is an admirable quality.

After all that shade I just threw at the Knicks, I think it’s only fair to announce my undying love for Mario Hezonja. His cockiness teeters the line between confidence and delusion, which is a precarious balance I admire as a fan of both basketball and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I haven’t stopped vouching for Super Mario since he dapped up the opposing team’s coach after banging a three in a blowout win in Europe before he was drafted. The audacity of this kid is infectious, and it seems I’ve got the bug. I will support him long after his relevancy has faded.

Anyway, let’s hope we get to watch a Raptors blowout, heightening the Knicks’ chances of landing Zion Williamson in the draft. I can’t promise an exciting game, but I sure can promise some dysfunction — and you can’t spell dysfunction without “fun”!

Here are tonight’s details:

*****

Where to Watch:

SN ONE, 7:30 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol

New York — Damyean Dotson, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Kevin Knox, DeAndre Jordan

Injuries:

Toronto [Updated]Kawhi Leonard (day-to-day, load management), OG Anunoby (questionable, concussion-like symptoms)

New York — Frank Ntilikina (out), Kevin Knox (day-to-day), Dennis Smith Jr. (out), Noah Vonleh (out), Allonzo Trier (out)

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Don’t Get Hurt

At this point in the season, both teams’ fates have been decided. The Raptors are going to the playoffs in second place in the East, and the Knicks are going to the lottery with a shot at the number one pick. Of course, despite Toronto’s successful regular season, the real challenge is just beginning.

The Raptors are gearing up, looking to find their rhythm and stay healthy for the playoffs. Fred VanVleet missed about a month of action with a thumb injury, Kyle Lowry is playing through a sore ankle, and OG Anunoby just had a scary fall against the Bulls on Tuesday night. Luckily, OG passed the concussion protocol, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him sit out tonight as a precaution. This close to the playoffs, in perhaps the most important season the franchise has ever seen, the Raptors should be resting their key rotation players whenever possible.

Weird Lineups Abound

The Raptors are still finding their footing, tinkering with lineups here and there to see what sticks. Marc Gasol has seen increasingly more time alongside Kyle Lowry, and at this point, looks to be slotted in as the team’s permanent starting centre. For chemistry development purposes, it generally helps to have a lineup of usual suspects who are used to playing with each other.

But this feels like a game where mad scientist Nick Nurse will continue to tinker with lineups, especially considering the team’s late-season health concerns and the lack of ‘give-a-crap’ about tonight’s Knicks match-up. Pascal Siakam could easily play some centre tonight, and just as easily be thrown in as a small forward just to see what happens. It’s that kind of night, folks.

Load Management is Good

As the days go by, Leonard looks more and more comfortable being integrated into the Raptors offense, resulting in some dazzling passes to a cutting Pascal Siakam and less isolation offense. Kawhi’s assisted made field goal percentage has risen steadily as the season progresses, from just 29.7% in November to a high of 55.0% in February. While it’s encouraging to see his offense flourish within the system, I’d like to point out that not only do the Raptors truly not need him tonight, they’d be foolish to even consider playing him.

Kawhi may have sat out some games here and there, but let’s not pretend like we care about his absence against Chicago in November, or Indiana in January. Those types of games don’t matter even a little bit, especially at this point in the season. So, when Kawhi sits, please don’t fret. In fact, rejoice! Many parties within the Raptors organization feel increasingly confident they’ll be able to re-sign Kawhi Leonard in the summer, with Kawhi himself even praising the Raptors’ medical staff.

After all, what’s more important: an NBA Finals berth, or Kawhi playing against the New York Knicks in late March? I don’t even need to think about the answer to that question, and hopefully, neither do you.