The Raptors kept their hopes for the second seed in the Eastern Conference alive Wednesday night with their fifth straight victory over the 76ers. Toronto is currently in third place, only one game behind the Miami Heat. And now — finally healthy after a first half of the season ravaged by injuries to key players — the Raps are poised to make a serious run and overtake for Heat.
To achieve this, they must take care of business versus weaker opposition, starting Friday. Toronto is heading to the mecca of basketball to play the struggling Knickerbockers, who currently sit 27th in the NBA standings with a miserable record of 12-33. They have only beaten four teams with a winning percentage above .500 so far this campaign. With the Raptors winning their last seven encounters between the squads, this game should not pose any issues for the defending champions.
There is no reason for Toronto not to be up big early on, giving head coach Nick Nurse the chance to go deep in his rotation and ease off the minutes of his star players.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 ET
Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
New York: Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson
Toronto: Dewan Hernandez (out - knee)
New York: RJ Barrett (out - ankle)
The only reason for excitement on the current Knicks’ roster is Canadian rookie shooting guard RJ Barrett, who has impressed early despite a pitiful supporting cast. However, he will not feature in Friday’s contest, hobbled by an ankle injury. That’s a bummer for Canadian basketball fans, who have come to appreciate watching emerging home-grown talent play against the Raps as the recent matchup against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander demonstrated.
RJ is currently having a solid rookie campaign averaging 14.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per games. His shooting percentage isn’t sterling but that’s typical for a rookie, especially given the cast of characters surrounding him.
Toronto still have two more games against the Knicks after Friday, so Raps fan should be able to watch RJ perform in the near future.
Take Control Early
The Raptors have started slowly in their past three contests, trailing early in each. There can’t be a repeat of this against New York. They must take care of business early and build a big lead by halftime, avoiding the periodic scoring or defending lapses that they have been prone to.
This will give Nick Nurse the freedom to go much deeper into his rotation and manage minutes, resting over-taxed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. It will also allow players who haven’t featured much since Toronto became healthy again to get a decent run. Expect Chris Boucher and Terence Davis to get more minutes Friday. Matt Thomas and Stanley Johnson may even get some action.
Allow Pascal to Rebuild his Confidence
Since his return six games ago, Pascal Siakam has clearly been pressing. During that span he’s only averaged 19 points per game and shot a middling 43.7% from the field. A less pressurized matchup versus a substandard opponent might be precisely what the all-star needs to let loose and re-discover his rhythm. Everyone realizes that a serious Raptors’ playoff run will depend on an in-form Siakam leading the way.