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Raptors head to Brooklyn for divisional tilt: Preview, start time and more

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Toronto looks nothing like the team that streaked through November, mostly due to the injuries to its key personnel. Can they bounce back against the similiarly hurting Nets?

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve seen some bad stretches over the last six seasons — various slumps, injuries, etc. — but to be frank, nothing compares to the offensive ineptitude the Raptors have displayed over the last few games. Without three key players, the team is struggling immensely (as one should expect) and unless a trade is incoming — which I wouldn’t expect quite yet — this is the state of the Raptors for the time being.

Relying on two six-foot guards for 60 percent of the team’s offense is going to produce results like Thursday evening’s sub-80 point performance, in which the Raptors faced a vicious zone employed by the Heat’s long, athletic defenders — much like the players Toronto employs themselves. Fred VanVleet is in the shooting slump of his life after beginning the 2019-20 season on fire from deep, however his shots continue to go up because, well, who else is going to take them?

Unfortunately for both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, as we saw in last year’s semi-finals series against the 76ers, height does indeed matter in the league and only a select few playing right now can circumvent their (relatively) diminutive stature to consistently put up big points on good efficiency. The two guards are great for secondary roles, but together, no matter how much fight and fury they carry around, they cannot lead an NBA offense for long stretches of the regular season.

The shortcomings of the last week have emphasized an important weakness that the front office will consider for the postseason, surely — and that’s size. When (and it is most certainly a matter of time, not if) the Raptors see a defense such as the one which stopped them in their tracks Thursday night, they’ll need long players like Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell more than ever.

That makes the team’s return to strength so important over the coming weeks, and highlights a lesson all Raptors’ fans should be learning in January — despite the numbers Marc Gasol puts up, for instance, he’s a necessary piece to the team’s success. The same goes for Norm Powell, by the way. No matter how many bone-headed mistakes he makes, he’s a necessary piece of the team’s success.

We love Toronto’s guards, but we cannot expect them to be the heroes every game.

Here are the details for tonight’s matchup:

Where to Watch:

TSN, 6 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka

Brooklyn — Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, DeAndre Jordan

Injuries:

Toronto — Pascal Siakam (Out — groin), Norm Powell (Out — shoulder), Marc Gasol (Out — hamstring), Matt Thomas (Out — finger), Dewan Hernandez (Out — ankle)

Brooklyn — Caris LaVert (Probable — thumb), Garrett Temple (Probable — knee), Kyrie Irving (Out — shoulder), Nicolas Claxton (Out — hamstring), Kevin Durant (Out — ACL)

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The Raptors Select: Andre Drummond?

With the New Year upon us, and All-Star weekend around the corner, the NBA world is teeming with trade rumors. Chief among them for the Raptors is their supposed interest in Andre Drummond, centre for the Pistons. With Detroit failing once again to win games, Drummond — who is in the last year of his current contract and will most certainly opt out for a max deal — is the guy they’re looking to cash in on.

However, the trade makes little-to-no sense for the Raptors. They’ve already got Gasol who, despite analysts scoffing at his six point, six rebound averages on the year, is a markedly better team player, especially in the Raptors’ current system. Toronto would have to trade Gasol or Ibaka in this deal, along with a flurry of picks and a young player — perhaps OG Anunoby. That’s a hard pass for me.

Brooklyn’s Top-Five Shooting Defense

Brooklyn, for a team who allows over 110 points per game, is pretty good at forcing bad shots. Opponents are shooting just .433 percent from the floor against them on the year. The problem is, they don’t generate turnovers; they just allow the opposing team to keep their possessions, resulting in a league worst 94.2 FGA allowed per game. This is good news for a Raptors team that has struggled to generate shots over the last week.

Expect the Raptors backcourt to take a lot of shots tonight. They may not always be efficient or great looks, but they’ll get them at least. I also expect a nice game from Serge Ibaka, whose been carrying more of the offensive load the last few games in an effort to relieve some pressure off of Lowry and VanVleet. DeAndre Jordan’s slow feet should allow Ibaka to take advantage on a couple nice post-ups.

Rondae’s ‘Revenge Game’

There’s been a lot of chatter this year about revenge games and whatnot, thanks to the massive star player movement we saw this past summer. However most of those designations make no sense, because many of the star players wanted to leave. It’s not like the team excommunicated them from their city. In most cases, the city was willing to fork over the max, including additional incentives, to keep the player seeking ‘revenge.’ So, the term ‘revenge game’ needs a nice long vacation until people understand what it really means.

Someone who should understand what it means is Raptors’ forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Playing four seasons in Brooklyn, Rondae was habitually used in the wrong ways — such as being relegated to the corner for threes — in a system that wasn’t built to run a player like him. As a result, he rarely played a consistent role. If he was developed correctly, we might be talking about a completely different player. Lucky for he and the Raptors, we’ve seen glimpses of the fantastic role player that could be a lock (and potential difference maker) for Toronto’s playoff rotation. This is the scrappy, blue-collar role he should’ve been playing his entire career.

Thursday night Rondae scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds (including three OReb) in a typical stat-line for the bench phenom. Expect him to play as hard as ever in his first game back in Brooklyn.