This time last year, the Toronto Raptors were heading into a different type of atmosphere in San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard was making his first return to the team he unceremoniously left the summer before. Boos were raining down anytime he touched the ball. It was an emotionally charged, nationally-televised game in which the Raptors were demolished. DeMar DeRozan posted his first triple double and Toronto was outplayed all game, falling to the Spurs 125-107.
A few things have changed since then. First, Kawhi is no longer on the team, which makes the Raptors just another NBA team for everyone on the Spurs not named DeMar DeRozan. Second, the Raptors are the reigning champions, and this is now just another regular season game.
The Spurs currently sit just half a game outside the eighth and final play-off spot in the West. This season is the first in over two decades in which there is a real concern San Antonio fails to make the post season. Memphis, Phoenix, Portland, and New Orleans are all jockeying for position to make it. Toronto on the other hand, has modeled itself after the sustained success of San Antonio, with excellent draft picks, player development, and organizational culture. Today they face off, with Toronto hoping to even the season series. Here are the details for today’s game.
Where to Watch
SportsNet One, 4:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
San Antonio – Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Trey Lyles, LaMarcus Aldridge
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (nose – day-to-day), Dewan Hernandez (ankle – out)
San Antonio – DeMarre Carroll (illness – day-to-day)
Grab the Chance
The Raptors are currently tied with Miami for second place in the East at 31-14 — but Miami holds the tiebreaker. Toronto has a great opportunity now to cement their place as the two seed. With just 10 games remaining until the All-Star break, Toronto plays eight sub-.500 opponents (the other two are against Indiana, who should be getting Victor Oladipo back this week). The Raptors are 24-2 against teams under .500, and if they continue that pace, they should own the sole position as the two seed by the break.
After a sloppy win against the Knicks on Friday night, Toronto should be more focused this time around. Pascal Siakam has slowly been finding his groove, Norman Powell has been playing spectacularly since his return, and Marc Gasol seems to have a little more lift and life in his game since his return. The team is finally relatively healthy (knock on wood) and could realistically win eight or nine of the next 10 games, giving them a great chance to separate themselves from the pack.
DeMar DeRozan is sizzling. In his past 15 games he’s averaging 26 points per game on an absurd 58% shooting. He’s also adding close to six assists and six rebounds per game in the same stretch. In the win against Toronto two weeks ago, he posted 25 points and eight rebounds on just 12 shots. He followed that up with 30-point performance against Miami, shooting 12-for-14 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line.
San Antonio, however, have not been playing as hot as DeRozan. After some impressive road wins against Boston and Toronto, and home wins against Milwaukee and Miami, San Antonio have failed to take advantage of those big wins. They are 9-6 in their past 15, but have some questionable losses to Memphis, Atlanta, and Phoenix, with two of those three fighting for the eighth seed in the western conference.
Toronto is losing in the all-time head to head matchup, 34-14. It’s not surprising given San Antonio’s decades of dominance with Gregg Popovich at the helm, but Toronto has only managed to win four games in San Antonio in its 25-year history, with the last win coming in 2007. It’s always been one of the more difficult places to play for Toronto especially lately. Since 2017, Toronto has lost by an average of 17 points per game.
Last year’s emotionally charged atmosphere with Kawhi was one thing, but is this year finally the year Raptors end this road losing streak? Tim Duncan has been retired for a few seasons now, Kawhi is no longer on the team, and San Antonio are fighting for the eighth seed instead of the top seed. If there was a time to break this curse it’s now, as defending champions.