Even without Marc Gasol, who has been a linchpin of success for the team this season, the Raptors were able to keep their win streak alive Thursday night against Cleveland. However if any coach/team combination were in a position to kill the streak, it’d be Dwane Casey and his underachieving Pistons — a team who’s played foil to Toronto since Casey took over at the beginning of last season.
Detroit currently sits at 17-32, 10th in the East, on the year — yet another seemingly lost season of play for the perennially losing team. Despite having the pieces they were looking to grab in the offseason, Detroit is close to being bottom 10 in both offense and defensive efficiency. Most of that is due to the absence of Blake Griffin, whose career in Detroit has been a complete failure thus far.
In the 18 games he played this year before being shut down due to knee troubles, Griffin shot 35 percent from the field and 24 percent from three, easily the worst marks of his career. It’s unclear what Griffin’s future in Detroit holds, but its safe to say his is one of the most disappointing stories in the NBA.
Toronto on the other hand continues trucking along in second place, and with the help of a lowly conference opponent on Thursday evening — the Hawks dispatched the 76ers to keep Philadelphia in sixth place. In holding the spot, Toronto is hoping to have Nick Nurse in the All-Star game as Head Coach of the “Eastern/Giannis” All-Stars, joining Kyle Lowry who was selected to his sixth straight All-Star team on Thursday night (and Pascal Siakam, of course, selected as a starter last week).
Marc Gasol’s status is up in the air for this evening’s game, but there’s a chance he’s not as far off as initially feared. Aggravating a hamstring injury usually spells doom for a basketball player, and at Marc’s age, it’s something to monitor closely as the season winds down. Toronto wants him as healthy as possible for the playoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see what their approach to his playing time is.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:00 p.m.
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Detroit — Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Bruce Brown, Sekou Doumbouya, Andre Drummond
Toronto — Marc Gasol (hamstring — questionable), Dewan Hernandez (ankle — out), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (ankle — out)
Detroit — Blake Griffin (knee — out), Luke Kennard (knee — doubtful), Markieff Morris (illness — questionable), Khyri Thomas (foot — doubtful)
Kyle Lowry: Six-time All-Star
Kyle Lowry was picked to his sixth All-Star game last night, and he responded with 23 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals to get Toronto its eighth straight win. A lot is often said about his clutch plays that don’t get recorded, and late in the fourth quarter, with Toronto trying to hold onto a slim lead, Lowry secured a loose ball after a missed VanVleet shot that embodied his entire basketball persona.
I don’t know exactly how he did it (I haven’t seen a replay yet), but it was with the usual brute force and sheer will that Lowry has consistently displayed over eight seasons with the Raptors. A kind of “will to win” that is impossible to gauge. That’s our guy.
I’ll preface this paragraph by saying: Siakam is fine. He’s coasting through the month after missing four weeks due to injury, and even though he’s playing with a different intensity compared to the beginning of the season, he’s still an effective shot-maker.
With that said, it’s tough to look at Siakam right now and feel the same confidence we had back in November and December. Without the fast break points that made Siakam so dangerous, he’s simply been a “good” player on offense. His defensive potential is still sky high, and his impact on that end is undeniable (he had four steals and a block last night), but it’s okay for fans to look at his play on offense and get worried. It’s only (almost!) February, so he has plenty of time to right the ship. Keep an eye on him!
Nick Nurse, Kyle Lowry, and the Recruiting Arm of Toronto
With possibly three representatives in the All-Star game in Chicago this year, Toronto has as good a chance as any to bond with the leagues preeminent star — Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kyle Lowry was picked as a reserve for the East, and Nick Nurse will coach the team should the Raptors secure the second seed by February 6th.
If that duo, in addition to Pascal Siakam, gets time with the superstar, Raptors fans will no doubt run to the bank with any and all news and reports of their weekend together. “Giannis 2021” is one of the few examples in franchise history of Raptors fans being excited to land a star through free agency. It’s intoxicating; we’re getting a small dose of what Lakers fans have become addicted to over the past decade.