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Toronto’s skeleton crew heads to Charlotte: Preview, start time, and more

After a loss to an underwhelming opponent, the situation is getting frustrating in Raptorland. Now they take on the Hornets, but fair warning: let’s start expecting less-than-ideal results until the team is healthy.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto has shown a propensity to play entire games with a certain chill factor permeating the entire roster over the last three weeks, however until last night they have never started a game hot and then lost because they got so cold. That’s the team’s inexperience — with their multitude of youngsters filling in — on display right now. The Raptors dropped a completely winnable game against the Trailblazers — who had no business taking this game on the road — last night in Toronto. It highlights yet another level of frustration this team is capable of inducing without its best players in uniform.

With Fred VanVleet’s status a question mark going into tonight’s contest against Charlotte, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are expected to do most of the heavy lifting once again. Lowry scored 24 points last night but needed 23 shots to do so, and despite being a linchpin offensively for the last 10 games, Ibaka shot the ball only 12 times for 17 points.

The only way to describe the abominable stretch of injuries is ‘unfortunate’ — both in scope of missed time and in game results. While it is impossible to consider, I’d love for Toronto to punt the next handful of games and sit both Lowry and Ibaka to keep them fresh for when the rest of the roster does return to form (Lowry played 38 minutes yet again last night).

Some news on a positive front: Matt Thomas (finger) returned from a lengthy absence and played 15 minutes last night, hitting a couple threes. Norman Powell (shoulder) was upgraded to doubtful before last night’s game, and it’s possible we see him back in the lineup before the week is over.

Here are the details for tonight’s game:

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet One, 7:00 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka

Charlotte — Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo

Injuries:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet (hamstring — out), Norm Powell (shoulder — doubtful), Pascal Siakam (groin — out), Marc Gasol (hamstring — out), Dewan Hernandez (ankle — out)

Charlotte — Marvin Williams (nose — questionable)

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The Price of a Finals Run

You may be thinking “what luck — the defending champs can’t stay healthy.” Well, that’s the price to pay as one of two teams who played for 10 months last year, and in Gasol’s case, the entire year. It really forces you to respect the level at which LeBron has consistently played over the last decade. It also gives the fan some perspective as to why players are more likely to rest small injuries in the modern league, erring on the side of caution so that they may be better suited to avoid further injury at some point in the coming calendar year.

Golden State, with serious injuries to two of its top players and a third experiencing nagging issues, has lost 205 games to injury this season. Toronto has lost 126 games to injury. Even worse, Toronto has ‘lost’ a total of six wins based on the win share metric in those games — in case you needed another reason to know this team is really good.

Resting Lowry

Toronto has already lost Lowry once this year, and given the current state of the team, the Raptors cannot lose him again. That’s why it’s so important to manage his minutes in this stretch and, ideally, for the remainder of the regular season. Lowry is playing the most minutes per game in his career (that’s quite a number) and now leads the league at 38.3. After so much attention was paid to getting his minutes down and keeping him fresh the past two years, you have to wonder — what happened to that?

Lowry has been markedly better in the past two postseason runs, both in terms of statistics and quality of play. A lot of that has to do with his regular season limitations. This year, it feels as though Nurse is reluctant to let Terence Davis play through mistakes, or Norm Powell (when he’s healthy) to play alone with Fred. Nick Nurse may need to start trusting his bench players even more to get Lowry’s minutes down a tick. The whole “they don’t understand how hard champions play” ruse was nice in training camp, but if these guys are still on the team in January, Nurse needs to let them play.

KLO3

After shooting 16 threes last night, Lowry eclipsed 9.0 3PA per game for his season average. It’s 1.2 more threes than he’s ever averaged during the regular season in his career, and he’s sitting in the top-ten in both makes and takes per game. His 3PA ratio is nearly up to 60 percent of all field goal attempts — a number he’s eclipsed each of the two previous seasons.

Here’s to hoping Lowry hits more threes than he misses tonight because, well, the Raptors will likely need each and every one.