If you are looking for a “the best of the best” kind of game, the pinnacle of the modern NBA, an example to show a non-fan to get them interested in NBA basketball... I might suggest you avoid tonight’s game.
Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Toronto Raptors are playing on the second night of a back-to-back. It’s mid-January. Both teams have players coming back from injury, shaking off rust. There’s a snowstorm belting Minneapolis.
It might be a rough one.
But, we persevere.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 8 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Minnesota — Jarrett Culver, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, Shabazz Napier, Karl-Anthony Towns
Toronto — Dewan Hernandez (ankle - out)
Minnesota — Jake Layman (left toe - out)
Go Big or Go Home...?
The Raptors started with the Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol megafrontcourt for the second straight game last night, but it remains to be seen if it’ll get its third straight start tonight. On the one hand, it seems to be working, as the Raptors outscored Oklahoma City and Washington by 13 and 12 points, respectively, in the past two opening quarters.
On the other hand, tonight seems like a good matchup for Nick Nurse to switch it up. For one thing, the Wolves are not huge up front, even with the return of Karl Anthony-Towns (who played his first game last night after missing 14 straight); they start Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington alongside him; we may not want to see Ibaka chasing Wiggins and Covington around the perimeter. Then again, I can’t imagine the Wolves will be comfortable with either one of those guys holding Ibaka off in the paint on the other end.
For another... the Raptors should be getting another starter-calibre player back tonight.
Return of the Steady Hand
Fred VanVleet is expected to return to the lineup for the Raptors tonight after missing five straight with a hamstring injury.
The timing of that injury was particularly unfortunate, as Fred was just starting to round into shape after shaking off the rust from his previous injury. He shot 5-for-24 from downtown his first four games back from that one, then shot 39% over the next five (a stretch that included that awful shooting game in Miami). Hopefully he won’t miss a beat this time, and coming back against a sub-par defensive team like Minnesota should help.
Even if VanVleet does struggle, the Raptors should be able to weather it, because... they’ll be at fulls strength! Finally! How refreshing is that? With Fred available, Nick Nurse is overloaded with options between the two and three spots, and we might finally see a reduction in Patrick McCaw’s minutes to something in the teens, which seems a more reasonable role for him.
Hopefully VanVleet’s return doesn’t mean a reduction in Terence Davis II’s minutes, though. Although Davis continues to make the occasional rookie mistake (see: his three turnovers last night) he also continues to shoot the lights out (see: 5-for-7 from downtown last night).
Karl Anthony-Towns missed a month with an injured left knee before returning last night... and he looked just fine! 27 points in 28 minutes? Yep, not bad at all.
There’s been no confirmation yet about Towns playing tonight, on the second night of a back-to-back, but we’ll assume he’ll be out there.
Towns’ prolonged absence, and Minnesota’s continued losing ways (they went 5-9 without him and are 13th in the Western Conference, and will likely miss the playoffs again) has sparked concern and rumour about Towns wanting to get out of town. He’s said nothing but the right things about the organization and his desire to stay there, but still, could you even blame him if he wanted to try and start over somewhere else?
This is just yet another reminder that we, as Raptors fans, should consider ourselves blessed for the prolonged success we’ve witnessed the past six years; not just on the court, but building that “winning culture” off of it. Sure, we may not have superstar free agents lining up to sign here (yet!) but no one wants to flee town, either, because the team hasn’t given the a reason to.
We went through dark days (and months... and years) like the Wolves are going through. We shouldn’t ever forget that they’re not that far away.