Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief.
Toronto Raptors basketball is back tonight after a break that felt never ending. In reality it was only eight days between the last time the Raptors played a game and tonight’s matchup versus the Phoenix Suns.
It was also a well needed period of rest for a team that has been banged up for a majority of the season. The Raptors rank fifth in the NBA in combined games missed by injured players. Having everyone feeling good for the final stretch will be important in holding onto the second seed of the Eastern Conference — to say nothing of the team’s post-season run.
That’s easier said than done as they’ll come out of the break with Marc Gasol still on the shelf with what seems to be a long-term hamstring injury, and Norman Powell dealing with a finger injury and won’t be re-evaluated for another week.
On the court to start the second half of the season, the Raptors begin a four-game home stretch against the 22-33 Suns. It’s the first of two meetings between the two teams over the next week and a half. These are two teams on very different paths, with the Raptors having just gone on a 15-game win streak while the Suns won a mere two in their final eight games before the break.
In that spirit, this is a game back from the All-Star break that can be carefully overlooked. Toronto has conference opponents the Indian Pacers, and more importantly, the first place Milwaukee Bucks lurking on the upcoming schedule. Fortunately, the Raptors appear to consistently bee one of the most well-prepared teams in the league.
Here are the details for tonight’s matchup:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Phoenix – Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., Deandre Ayton
Toronto – Marc Gasol (Hamstring – Out), Norman Powell (Finger – Out), Patrick McCaw (Illness – Doubtful)
Atlanta – Deandre Ayton (Ankle – Probable), Dario Saric (Ankle – Probable), Aron Baynes (Hip – Probable), Elie Okobo (Ankle – Probable), Frank Kaminsky (Knee – Out)
Overcome the Injuries
Let’s just get this one out of the way. As already mentioned, Gasol and Powell will miss tonight’s game — with potentially a couple more absences coming for the latter and possible a lot more for the former. These unfortunate circumstances can’t be avoided, and the Raptors are a team that will play hard night-in and night-out with no fear.
Maybe what the Raptors needed was a week-and-a-bit off from basketball activities — besides the All-Star fun Lowry, Siakam and Nick Nurse had. Just maybe playing after the break will bring this team some luck on the injury front. Not only the Raptors fan base, but the entire NBA deserves to witness how good a healthy Raptors team can really be this season.
With injuries comes a chance to play more minutes, shoot more shots and score more points. Besides the loss to the Nets before the break — where only the usual four of Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet and Ibaka finished with double-digits — the Raptors franchise-high win streak had different individuals having fantastic games.
OG Aunoby had 25-points and 12-rebounds versus Minnesota, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson adding 21; and Terence Davis and Matt Thomas combined for 35-points in a win over the Nets. The all-hands-on-deck approach worked.
Let’s stick on the rookie Davis. He played some of his best basketball in the final stretches of that 15-game win streak. Not only was he scoring, but he was efficient with the ball and rebounding. It’s that play from Davis that makes it easy to forget the injuries sometimes. The Raptors have players stepping up, and to continue that success in the second half will be needed from Davis. I’ll add Aunuoby to that too.
Speaking of injuries, the Suns are hoping to get a handful of returning players for Friday night. Four players are listed as ‘probable’ including Ayton and Saric. It can make it difficult to prepare for a team that has players in and out of the lineup. It’s unexpected what to really plan for.
What the Raptors do know is the Suns have Devin Booker — 10th in the league in scoring at 26.4 per game. Oubre Jr. has also been an effective scorer and Ricky Rubio has been a pleasant veteran addition. The Suns aren’t a scary team, even with all the players they are potentially getting back, but they are young and have an ability to score. However, with the Raptors’ ability to prepare a stout game plan comes their defensive rating of 105.1, which ranks second in the league. They may take their opponent lightly at times, but they’ve got the chops to get the job done.