Tuesday night’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks proved to be too much for the Raptors, as it became the first loss for Toronto since returning from the All-Star break and snapped a nine-game winning streak at Scotiabank Arena.
The schedule for the Raptors is picking up in March, with games against the Nuggets (2x), Jazz, Lakers, 76ers (in Philadelphia), and Celtics. Toronto’s record against +.500 teams has been a little concerning, and with the Celtics just a game behind the Raptors for the 2-seed, all these games hold a little extra weight. Despite playing well against Indiana this season, and knowing about the 76ers’ road troubles, I’m sure Toronto would rather play against the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets in the first round. Not to mention the importance of having homecourt for a potential conference semi-final against the Celtics.
Tonight, they host a team in Charlotte that is 18 games under .500 and is currently six games out of the eighth and final playoff position. The Hornets are 11-20 on the road, and Malik Monk, who had been playing well recently, has been suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s drug policy. Charlotte bounced back from a crushing loss against the Pacers with a win against New York anyway.
Still, barring any significant changes for the teams, and with the Raptors exceptional record against teams with losing records, Toronto should be heavy favourites to take this game — even without, as apparently seems to be the case now, they may be without a starting centre once again.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet One, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Charlotte – Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (illness – day-to-day), Serge Ibaka (knee – questionable), Norman Powell (finger – questionable), Marc Gasol (hamstring – OUT), Dewan Hernandez (ankle – OUT)
Charlotte – Malik Monk (suspension – OUT)
Since Norman Powell got hurt and Patrick McCaw caught the flu, there have been plenty of minutes available in the backcourt. Terence Davis has shown his ability earlier in the season when Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry took turns sitting out due to injury. Matt Thomas hadn’t had that opportunity until recently.
He, alongside Terence Davis, were bright spots in the game against Milwaukee. Thomas shot 3-for-5 from outside for nine points in 12 minutes. Thomas brings an element — his knockdown shooting — needed in the defensive showdowns we will almost certainly see in the postseason. His surprisingly good rebounding for his position also allows him to contribute on the other end as well.
Graham vs. Rozier
Devonte’ Graham’s sophomore season has surprised many people including myself. The former Jayhawk has posted 17.6 points per game to go along with 7.6 assists per game. He’s already started more games this season (47) than he’s played all last season (46). He’s increased his ppg by almost 13 which is giving him rightful attention for the Most Improved Player award. Personally, I don’t think the award should go to second year players, but he has made a name for himself at the least.
This begs the question, with his emergence this season, what direction should Charlotte go with Terry Rozier? He signed in the offseason to be the de-facto starting point guard but is now seeing his minutes being shared with another ball handler. Rozier felt he sacrificed playing alongside Kyrie Irving, but is he willing to do so for the younger Graham?
A Slight Serge Slip
Serge Ibaka had a stinker on Tuesday night. He shot 2-15 from the field, including 1-10 from three-point range, for five pts, his first single digit game since late January. He bobbled a lot of passes, had a looser handle than usual, and settled for some uncharacteristic shots. It was his worst game since Marc Gasol’s injury.
He, however, has been playing spectacular all season. He’s covered for Gasol and has found his shooting stroke, allowing the Raptors to play big when Gasol is healthy. Just a game before the Bucks, he completely outplayed Myles Turner, finishing with a season high 15 rebounds. It’s understandable to be disappointed in his play against a conference powerhouse, but overall its just one bad night and everyone has them.