Two years ago, after being traded to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka, Terrence Ross penned one of the greatest “thank you’s” the Raptor franchise ever received. It was articulate, charming, and — as it turns out — right on the money.
Ross is having a renaissance season with the Magic, posting career-highs in scoring (14.6), made threes per game (2.5) and assists (3.5). He’s provided for Orlando what they’ve lacked for years — a consistent bench scorer. Along with Nikola Vucevic, who’s proving he wants to be paid a large sum of money this upcoming free-agency, the two have combined with Aaron Gordon to create a formidable three-pronged scoring attack for the once laughing stock team.
Evan Fournier still plays for the Magic, but he’s not the same producer as he was in years past (for notably worse teams), shooting a career-worst percentage from 3-point range and taking fewer shots than he has since the 2015-16 season. Instead, he’s played a similar role to Ross, and oftentimes the two share the floor with great results — Ross with the Magic starters produce a +9.2 net rating, though the lineup only has roughly 200 minutes of playing time this season (In fact, four of Ross’s top five lineups have a net rating above 6.8 — he’s killing it.)
So, Ross is doing pretty well for himself these days. He’s settled brilliantly into a 6th-man role and could even be considered a top offensive option on a (possible) playoff team. Who’d have thought that comment about the Magic knocking on the door of the playoffs would come true so soon? Well, Terry did.
For the Raptors, it’d be nice for them to get a win over this Orlando team, since they’re currently 1-2 in the season series. I can’t imagine a scenario where they lose and feel “okay” about it, seeing as the Magic are a potential match-up in the seventh spot. They shouldn’t go all out with Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Lowry, but a little effort in this one would be advantageous for the scouting report. Orlando has simply had Toronto’s number this season and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Orlando — D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (out — thumb), OG Anunoby (questionable — concussion-like symptoms), Kawhi Leonard (questionable — personal time)
Orlando — Mo Bamba (out — left leg), Markelle Fultz (out — shoulder rehab), Timofey Mozgov (out — knee surgery)
A Monkey on their Backs
Toronto has a monkey on its back — and it comes in the form of the potential 7-seed playoff team (any of them). Whether it’s Detroit, Brooklyn or Orlando (Miami has Goran Dragic back too), the Raptors have struggled to win in a number of match-ups. They’re a combined 1-5 to both Detroit and Orlando, while Brooklyn has proven to be a tough out for everybody in the NBA. Toronto shouldn’t be worried about losing a series — not at any rate — but the stars are aligning in a way that could prove to be a thorn in the team’s side.
I’m sure many fans dream of the Raptors first playoff sweep in franchise history — both for the accomplishment, and the extra days rest a sweep would afford — but when looking at a team like Orlando or Detroit, it’s hard to find a scenario where either team fails to take a game or two off the Raptors.
Nick Nurse may find it a worthy challenge come playoff time, and especially so if most of the game tape that Nurse has on the Magic is of one game where they squeaked by and two which they lost in blowout fashion. The Raptors need to get the monkey off their back, and tonight is the first step in helping.
What Jonas Could’ve Been
It’s a sore topic for some folks — whether they’re spiteful or wistful — now that Jonas Valanciunas is putting up 20/20 games in Memphis night after night. Our once beloved JV is getting paid this summer though, that much is certain, and like JV, the Magic have their own centre looking to cash in on a fantastic season in Nikola Vucevic.
Averaging career highs across the board, Vucevic will be one of the most sought after centres in free-agency this summer. The Magic will likely max him out, an historically risky move considering this is his breakout season (lots of centres have been paid to scale based on a single season of dominance). However, none of what the future holds will take away from what he’s doing as the leader of a playoff-hopeful Magic squad.
Averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and 2.1 stocks (blocks plus steals) is difficult no matter where your team is in the standings. The past few years under former coach Frank Vogel were not kind to Vooch, but under current head coach Steve Clifford, he’s regained some of that scoring prowess he showed off before the offensively inept Vogel took over.
An Amazing Duet
When Fred VanVleet returned from injury, many people had questions on how he’d fit with the new look team. Those questions can be laid to rest as VanVleet, since his return, has looked like one of the best players on the floor in each of his nine games. The player he’s had the most success with is not Kyle Lowry (though the two are still dynamite together), but Marc Gasol.
In those nine games, the two have played 185 minutes together — a not so small sample — and are churning out ratings of 124.6 offensively and 93.7 defensively, for a whopping net rating of +30.9. If it sounds insane, it’s because it is. It’s the best big-minute net rating of any pair of players on the team. Coming in at a distant second are Danny Green and Jonas Valanciunas — a plus 23.8 in 270 minutes.
Both Fred and Gasol are making excellent cases to be included in the team’s most important lineups come playoff time. A closing lineup of VanVleet, Lowry, Green or Siakam, Leonard and Gasol is an intimidating and euphoria-inducing group. I, like many fans, am excited to see this team’s truncated postseason rotation.