March hasn’t been kind to the Raptors so far. After barely scraping by a scrappy Portland team, Toronto has lost two straight games to the Pistons and Rockets. But when it comes to New Orleans, Toronto has historically had their number (or at least since Alexis Ajinca left the team). Since the name change to the Pelicans, the Raptors hold an 8-3 record over the past 11 games.
At 30-37 the Pelicans are way outside the playoff hunt, though not technically eliminated, as they sit 7.5 games back of the eighth place Clippers. At this point, it’s tough to pin down what role Anthony Davis will play for the remainder of the season. He’s recently been limited to around 20 minutes of playing time per game, and some nights he sits out entirely.
Toronto has hit a few speed bumps of their own since acquiring Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin. Coach Nick Nurse has had trouble constructing lineups that perform consistently, and the biggest point of contention among fans has been whether or not to start Gasol, the better player, or Ibaka, the one with the most experience in Toronto’s starting five.
But with a few games left before securing a playoff spot, these are middling problems compared to the task of figuring out optimal lineups when the post-season begins. Nevertheless, here are some things to know heading into tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
8:00 p.m., SN One
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
New Orleans — Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark, Kenrich Williams, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (Thumb) Out
New Orleans — E’Twaun Moore - Out, Jahlil Okafor - Questionable, Jrue Holiday - Out
Figuring Out the Bench
We can argue all day which is more valuable — a strong starting lineup that maximizes the talent of its best pieces, but with a bench that suffers immensely; or a starting group which is viable, and with a bench that doesn’t hemorrhage leads in the early second and fourth quarters.
“Staggering” the starters is the magic word being tossed around a lot this week and it’s because it makes the most sense. If the Raptors were to start Gasol, Nurse might want to play him for half the opening frame, and then bring him back and have him play the remaining eight or nine minutes of the second quarter. It’s clear that when placed around the right players, he can be the most effective player on the team.
And Furthermore: Jeremy Lin
When Lin was signed by Toronto, fans were ecstatic to gain a no-holds-barred sixth-man scorer off the bench. However, he’s being increasingly relied upon to create the offense (and in recent games, the lone man doing so) and the results have been less than ideal. Over his last three games, Lin is shooting just .238 percent from the field on 7.0 attempts per game. On top of that, he’s averaging as many turnovers as assists in that same stretch (1.7).
However, the more concerning aspect of this dry run for Lin is the fact that he’s yet to hit a single three pointer since joining the team. The Raptors can hardly afford to have their lead bench guard not able to stretch the floor. Lin has shown flashes of brilliance with his dribble drive, and his finishing ability around the rim, but the main issue will always be his ability to hit threes.
What’s the Deal with Davis?
One of the rare dual-threat superstars of the league, Davis can be a dominant force on both offense and defense. Unfortunately, it appears the relationship between the star and his franchise has deteriorated to the point where he isn’t even expected to hear his name called in the fourth quarters these days. Davis made it clear he wanted to be traded, the Pelicans didn’t pull the trigger — and now neither party is getting what they want.
It may be the most peculiar case of a superstar riffing with his team in NBA history. He doesn’t want to be there, the team wants him there, but not in the state he’s currently in. Anthony Davis is more of a man with no nation — floating about in his current predicament without a care in the world except to leave New Orleans as quickly as possible.
The problem for Toronto is, even in those 20 some odd minutes he plays, he’s still one of the best players in the NBA.
For instance: In Davis’ last 10 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaged only 22.6 minutes per game. In those minutes, he’s averaging 16.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.1 blocks. I mean, come on! Sure, the guy might be hurting his stock by acting childish, but in terms of basketball, he could actually be increasing his stock simply by dominating on a minute-to-minute basis. It’s truly astonishing to see the numbers he’s putting up in such limited playing time, and that alone should be a point of emphasis for the Raptors this evening.