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Raptors head to Orlando for crucial Game 3: Preview, start time, and more

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The Raptors head to Orlando for the Magic’s first playoff game at home since 2012. It will be raucous. Can the Raptors handle the pressure and keep the momentum going? We’ll find out.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we are. Game 3 in Orlando. The Raptors will have momentum on their side tonight, on the backs of crushing performances from Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard in Game 2. But the Magic will have the home crowd, and it promises to be a raucous one.

This is Orlando’s first playoff game at home since the 2011-12 season. Back then, they were leading the charge, such as it was, with Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu (losing four-games-to-one against the Pacers in the first round). Then it was seven long years in the wilderness. The Magic organization is finally steadier nowadays, with Jeff Weltman taking over as president last season. They prioritized athleticism and length, nabbing draft picks Wesley Iwundu and Jonathan Isaac, and assembled a roster that made sense. As it stands, this Game 3 will mean a lot for Orlando.

However, in this series, Isaac is having his troubles. In two games, he has shot 6-of-18 from the field, and has been unable to contain Pascal Siakam like he did in the regular season. The real big key for the Magic tonight, though, will be getting Nikola Vucevic back on track. He has been neutralized by Toronto’s Marc Gasol, and as the Magic’s lone All-Star and offensive fulcrum, he will need to get his touches. Steve Clifford said in practice Thursday that the centre is a dependent position, and they’ll need better coordination and screening around Vucevic to be effective.

Something to keep an eye on: Patrick McCaw is questionable for tonight’s game after missing three weeks with a thumb injury. Nick Nurse talked about the defensive value he brings in a practice scrum recently, praising his on-ball and off-ball defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if McCaw ends up playing around 10 minutes tonight, taking some of Norman Powell’s and Jodie Meeks’ usual minutes.

Here are your details for tonight’s game.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:00 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol

Orlando – D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic

Injuries:

Toronto – Patrick McCaw (thumb - questionable), OG Anunoby (appendix - out),

Orlando – Markelle Fultz (shoulder - out), Mohamed Bamba (leg - out), Timofey Mozgov (finger - out)

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Kyle Lowry, Playing Strong

Kyle Lowry was superb in Game 2. In 38 minutes, he scored 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting from inside the arc and 2-of-4 shooting from deep. That he was getting to the rim so easily was unique for Lowry this season. He attempted nine or more two-point field goals only three times — three times! — during the regular season, in 65 games played.

Obviously it will be tough for Lowry to turn in the same dominant performance for Game 3. He went beast mode, and the Raptors can’t really expect that two games in a row. The good part though, is that Toronto doesn’t need that from Lowry every night. The threat of his drive is there, and the Raptors have a few other scoring options (Danny Green, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet) that can do more in Game 3. (They also have Kawhi Leonard, hello!) I’m curious to see how aggressive Lowry is tonight, and whether he goes back to a facilitator role.

Raptors’ Hybrid Units

The biggest disappointment for the Raptors so far this series has been the play of their bench. Missing OG Anunoby and Patrick McCaw has been tough, of course, but Fred VanVleet has not been his usual steady self, and Norman Powell hasn’t managed a springtime breakout. The plus-minus numbers of most hybrid lineups are particularly telling.

In the first two games, only the starters and one hybrid lineup made a strong impact. The starters have played to a +36 in 36 minutes and a lineup of Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Leonard-Ibaka played to a +10 in 8 minutes. All other lineups (52 minutes total) have played to a collective -20 with no one lineup playing above a +3. The least successful lineup? The starters, with VanVleet in for Lowry, who played to a -16 in 6 minutes. Yikes.

The return of McCaw will help those hybrid units, but VanVleet, along with Powell, will need to start dictating terms with bench, keeping the offense moving. The bench is one potential advantage for Orlando in Game 3, especially if Terrence Ross gets it going from three. It will be interesting to see how Nick Nurse manages his bench.

Nikola Vucevic, Searching

Maybe the most intriguing matchup of the series has been the battle of Marc Gasol and Nikola Vucevic. Both players are excellent passers, shooters, and decisions makers on offense, but Gasol has gotten the upper-hand this series. In two games, Vucevic has scored a total of 17 points on 6-of-21 shooting, with 12 rebounds and five turnovers. Part of that has been Gasol’s smothering defense and part of that has been Vucevic’s lack of aggression. He is getting doubled in the post and pushed away from his sweet spots. It’s hard for him to create much offensively, and a lot of the time it is the right decision to kick the ball out to shooters. Orlando will just need to make them.

Still, no matter the defensive coverage, one would think he will be more aggressive scoring tonight. The home crowd will be ready to cheer for Vucevic on the catch, which might just be the motivation he needs. If the Magic are poor once again from three (they were 9-for-34 in Game 2), then Vucevic’s offensive game will be a necessity to any Orlando victory.