To many Toronto Raptors fans, Sunday evening is more than “just another game.” It’s a new tradition where the San Antonio Spurs game gets circled on the calendar of Raptor fans across the country the moment the schedule is released. A game where they get to see their beloved former player return to the city in which he and his old team played their best basketball for nearly a decade. Tonight, DeMar DeRozan comes back to his second home for the second time.
Before getting to tonight’s game, let’s rewind. Last season’s first meeting back in Toronto between the Spurs and Raptors was one of the more emotional and insane games played in Raptors history. The game opened with a roaring ovation for DeRozan that followed by non-stop action after the tip. Both teams traded leads right to the very end — and that’s when Kyle Lowry helped former Raptor Kawhi Leonard strip the ball off DeRozan, and Leonard ran down the court and threw it down with 15 seconds left to give the Raptors a one-point lead.
They eventually won after former Spur Davis Bertans missed a mid-range shot which led to Leonard making a couple of free-throws to seal the deal.
Fast forward to four months and the Raptors conclude their 2018-19 campaign with their first-ever NBA championship that included “The Shot,” a backdoor sweep against the Milwaukee Bucks, and the end of the Golden State Warriors dynasty. In the end, the Raptors got what they were chasing for the past 25 years in the DeMar-Kawhi trade, and it’s still worth it even with Kawhi leaving Toronto to go back home to play for the Clippers.
There may not be another tribute video but Raptor fans will sure show their love to DeRozan during the starting lineup intros.
Now, for the players and teams, it’s strictly business. Coming into tonight, the Raptors are two games back from the second seed in the Eastern Conference as they sit with a record of 25-13. It’s crazy how close they are, considering they lost two key players in the offseason in Leonard and Danny Green and the team hasn’t been at full strength since the season started.
Luckily, they will likely be getting Norman Powell back even though he is listed as probable on the injury report. He’s missed the last 11 games with a shoulder injury.
The Raptors officially have Norman Powell listed as probable, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol as questionable, Fred VanVleet and Dewan Hernandez as out for tomorrow.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 11, 2020
To add to the good news, Pascal Siakam also looks to be cleared from his groin injury soon.
Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam is expected to practice Friday with hopes of returning to lineup in the next week, league sources tell ESPN. He’s been out since Dec. 18 with a groin injury.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 10, 2020
The team is still trying to figure out how to play a complete game without Siakam, Marc Gasol, and recently shelved Fred VanVleet. They’re either lacking offensive creativity or allowing too many defensive miscues. Powell won’t change all that by himself but having him in the rotation may settle play from both ends, especially considering how they both led by and trailed by double-digits at several points in their last game against the Charlotte Hornets.
For the Spurs, they’re having one of the rockier seasons they’ve had in the last 20 years during the Gregg Popovich era. The team is off to their worst start through 35 games since 1998-99, sitting at 16-21. They’re tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for eighth place in the Western Conference and they happened to lose to them on Friday night. They’re still trying to get back on track after going 4-12 in November — a stretch that included an eight-game losing streak. Luckily, their star guard DeRozan is having one of the best 10-game stretches of his career. More on this below.
With every game meaning more and more in the standings, both teams will want to come out with a win tonight. Let’s get into the game details below followed by the three keys to the game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 6 p.m. EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka
San Antonio — Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles
Toronto — Norman Powell (shoulder — probable), (Pascal Siakam (groin — questionable), Marc Gasol (hamstring — questionable), Fred VanVleet (hamstring — out), Dewan Hernandez (ankle — out)
San Antonio — None
All Eyes on DeRozan
The mid-range maestro has been on a tear the last 10 games, averaging 27.2 points on an efficient 63.8% shooting from the field, to go along with 4.6 rebounds 5.7 assists per game. During this stretch, the four-time All-Star has been getting 56.6 percent of his points from the paint, 17.6 percent from mid-range, and 22.4 percent of his points from free-throws. These have been DeRozan’s key areas of attack throughout his entire career, he’s just doing it at an extremely high level at the moment.
The Raptors will need to clog the paint as much as they can but it’s going a tough task with their thin frontcourt of Serge Ibaka, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, OG Anunoby, and Chris Boucher. Preventing him from driving into the paint and keeping him in the mid-range or perimeter to get his points will be key.
There are 26 players averaging 20 PPG this season.— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 7, 2020
DeMar DeRozan is the only one putting up less than 1 three-point attempt per game.
Midrange legend. pic.twitter.com/5jzuLLCBSh
Slow Them Down
Who would have thought that a Gregg Popovich-led team would be producing their offense on the fly in transition rather than playing in the half-court as they were so accustomed to doing the previous two decades? Well, with a young core in Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes and Derrick White, and with how the game is played today, it’s a direction they must follow.
The Spurs’ offensive rating is 110.8 (eighth-best in the league), their pace is at 101.4 possessions per game (12th best), and they score 14.2 fast-break points per game (11th best). Their offense is so lethal that they’ve hung 117-plus points in their last nine of their 11 games. On the other end Toronto has the second-best team in defensive rating in the league behind the Bucks, at 103.8 per 100 possessions, and allow their opponents to shoot 42.4 percent from the field (also second). Now, with the Raptors’ versatile defenders, fans should expect the Spurs to perform below their offensive averages.
Get Going Early
Since the Spurs are one of the top offensive teams in the league, the Raptors are going to have to match or play close to that if San Antonio breaks through their defense. Toronto has struggled to get a steady flow of offense coming from the entire team since they lost Siakam, Powell, Gasol, and now VanVleet to injuries because of the lack of offensive creators they currently have. Lowry has been Ol’ Reliable, and Ibaka has recorded seven straight double-doubles but the rest of the roster has been inconsistent. Terence Davis II recorded a career-high of 23 points and 11 rebounds last game against the Hornets — after being called out for his terrible play. Anunoby had a nice 19-7 game in Charlotte but was in single digits the previous two (and hasn’t been to the free throw line since Christmas), and Patrick McCaw has showcased improved playmaking abilities but is still hesitant to score.
With Powell getting into the mix and Davis II getting back on track, hopefully the inconsistencies will level out. If they want to pull out a win tonight, Toronto’s offense cannot afford to have droughts against this team.