Toronto is riding a season-high eight game winning streak heading into Thursday evening, and even with Marc Gasol on the sidelines, the team has a great chance of extending that to nine. Losers of eight of their last nine games, the Cavs are moving right along to the draft lottery for the second straight season.
Toronto dispatched Cleveland twice at home this season in lopsided fashion, including once without most of their regular lineup just a few weeks ago. Since LeBron James left for the Lakers, Toronto has won five of the six matchups between the two teams.
Serge Ibaka is slated to get the start this evening without Marc Gasol, so let’s take a moment to revel in the amazing play he’s provided the team over the last two weeks:
Ibaka — GP: 8, MPG: 24.4, PPG: 14.4, RPG: 6.9, APG: 1.5, SPG: 1.1 | FG%: .526 3P%: .375
He’s been a complete monster in his bench role (the numbers above include a single start) in the last 14 days. Not surprising, this stretch spans over the entire win streak. In reality, Ibaka has been playing like an All-Star since the initial injuries occurred, back on December 18th. This includes a stretch of eight straight double-doubles — five of which were 20-point outings. Let’s give him a hand, because it’s been a long time since our last stone-handed-Ibaka game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:00 p.m.
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Cleveland — Collin Sexton, Dante Exum, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Toronto — Marc Gasol (hamstring — out), Patrick McCaw (nose — questionable), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (ankle — out), Dewan Hernandez (ankle — out)
Cleveland — Brandon Knight (knee — out), Ante Zizic (illness — out)
Unfortunately Gasol tweaked his hamstring — yes, it was the same injury which caused him to miss a month earlier this season — and his road map is uncertain moving forward. While it doesn’t sound serious, it’s an issue the coaching staff could monitor for the rest of the season. A hamstring injury is one of those which nags at basketball players for months at a time. At his age, Gasol could see his minutes reduced for the rest of the year in order to enter the playoffs completely healthy. I’m not basing this on any report though, so please keep that in mind.
His impact has been night and day this season. The Raptors are 27-8 with Gasol in the starting lineup this season, and 7-6 without him. Of course in those 13 games, half of the roster was sitting — including Toronto’s leading scorer Pascal Siakam — so take it with a grain of salt.
Kyle Lowry: The Assist Champion
Kyle Lowry reached another Raptors plateau on Tuesday, passing Jose Calderon to become the team’s franchise leader in assists. Sitting at 3,772 and counting, Lowry is now the franchise leader in assists, 3-pointers made, steals and (for the advanced stats folks) total win shares. His resume as a Raptor is undeniable. World Champion, eight seasons (and counting), franchise leader in four categories, five-time All-Star, one All-NBA team selection (third, 2016), and free rent in every Raptors fan’s heart.
But seriously, this is a section dedicated to loving Lowry, so, deal with it.
We’ve covered the tragic deaths of Kobe and his daughter Gianna here on the site, and extensively throughout the basketball world, but I wanted to finish today’s preview with a dedication.
Words escaped me Sunday afternoon when I first heard of the incident. Actually, my first words were “lol what?”
I thought it was a sick joke. After that, I couldn’t stop saying “what the f—” for about five straight minutes. Like many others, I believed Kobe would live forever, possibly because of his preceding career. In actuality, I simply never thought of the prospect of his death because his accomplishments were so numerous, across such a wide variety of tests. His impact on tens of millions (hundreds, possibly?) of people around the world is beyond words. His jumpshot has been emulated by every basketball player over 15 years old. He’s part of a three-headed GOAT monster along with Michael Jordan and LeBron James. He was a living legend.
He’s one of the few sports figures in history who can be identified by just their first name. LeBron. Tiger. Kobe. After them the list rapidly dwindles. I first saw Kobe in a Sports Illustrated magazine, and later saw his heroics first hand (on TV, actually) against the Kings in 2000 when he scored 48 points in a series-clinching Game 4 in the semi-finals.
I practiced three players’ moves that summer: Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and one Kobe Bryant. It was the birth of a new kind of love of basketball for me. I’ve been a fan of the game since I can remember — burying my nose in newspaper box scores as a kid. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2000, my first growth spurt, that I could really play out what I was seeing on TV. I could relive those moments on a 10-foot hoop instead of the NERF attached to my door. I immediately gained a deep respect for what those guys were able to do on the floor.
I never met the man, and he didn’t play for my favorite team. Still, his death felt personal for some reason, and I still don’t have a great explanation as to why. I’m starting to believe that question will never be answered, and I’m okay with that.
For nostalgia’s sake, I took a deep trashcan jumper late in the clock after his death on Sunday. Swish. Just like the old days.