Will the Raptors ever lose again?
This is a question worth asking as Toronto hurdles towards a February 25 matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, the next really tough test on the calendar. Since January 12, they’ve been beating everyone else in every way possible, calling on that old cliché championship mentality to finish wins where it didn’t seem possible.
On Saturday, it was through a comeback — sustained without the help of one of their All-Stars in Kyle Lowry, who left with a neck injury and is questionable tonight — as they recovered to top the Brooklyn Nets at home by one point.
Tonight, they finish a two-game home stand against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and have every reason to feel confident in their ability to add to their franchise record 14-game winning streak.
The 15-35 Wolves, for their part, did a hard reset at the trade deadline and appear to have found a bump as a result. As the Raptors were beating Brooklyn, the Timberwolves were pouring in buckets against the Los Angeles Clippers — winning their first game with Karl-Anthony Towns in the lineup in nearly three months, 142-115.
With this win behind them and De’Angelo Russell to join soon — he’s questionable to play tonight with a quad injury — it’s obvious Minnesota is wanting to make this a fresh start.
If that’s the spirit, let’s see if the Raptors can drop the Timberwolves back to .500. Here are your details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Minnesota — Josh Okogie, Juan Hernangomez, Malik Beasley, Jordan McLaughlin, Karl-Anthony Towns
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (questionable - neck), Marc Gasol (out - hamstring), Norman Powell (out - finger), Dewan Hernandez (out - ankle)
Minnesota — D’Angelo Russell (questionable - quad), Jake Layman (out - toe)
Slow the Shooting
The x’s and o’s suggest that the Timberwolves will continue to struggle on the defensive end this season. Russell hasn’t been especially good as a defensive guard, and teams are sure to try to attack the combination of he and Towns in the pick and roll. The Raptors are a smart basketball team, and should be able to expose this Minnesota team for a fair amount of points.
Where they’ll have to be careful is on the defensive end. Toronto is a team that have given up threes in bunches, which is dangerous against teams running hot. The Wolves certainly fit that description with their win over the Clippers — nine players shot better than 50% from three as the team made 26-of-44 looks (59.1%). This included newcomers James Johnson (2-of-3) and Malik Beasley (7-of-13), who immediately got their groove going despite only a day or two in a Minnesota uniform.
A bump after a trade or coaching change is par for the course in the NBA, but the Raptors need to do their best to try to slow forward momentum for Minnesota. Guarding their shooters and forcing a change in pace, whether it’s through full court defence or a zone, would be a good strategy in this game.
Siakam and Towns
The superstar matchup in this game is in the frontcourt, as sensational forwards Karl-Anthony Towns and Pascal Siakam take a crack at each other. Siakam had 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in Saturday’s win over the Nets, and has been scoring under the radar over the last few wins — chipping in but not overtly drawing attention to his game.
In this game, we probably shouldn’t expect these two players to guard each other, but there will be a need for Siakam to keep pace with Towns’ scoring. Often a tall task, sure, but assuming those Minnesota shooters cool off a bit — Towns will quickly become a focal point for the Toronto defence.
Lowry and Russell
The two players listed as questionable for tonight’s game — Kyle Lowry and De’Angelo Russell — would both have a huge impact if they were to suit up. Without them, Minnesota will continue to trust the reigns to Jordan McLaughlin, who might have been the hottest shooter of them all on Saturday with an 11-for-15 line overall.
Russell playing would change Minnesota’s tempo a bit and force them to begin adjustments to having another superstar on the court. In that way, it might favour the Raptors, who are definitely comfortable in their own skin given the current winning streak.
And if Lowry plays? That will be a boon for the pick and roll defence, which surely the always-buddies, now-teammates Russell and Towns will be using regularly from here until the end of the season.