“It is a good thing for everyone who can possibly do so to get away at least once a year for a change of scene. I do not want to get into the position of not being able to see the forest because of the thickness of the trees.” — Franklin Roosevelt
The 32nd President of United States probably said this quote in reference to World War II, but it also applies to the Toronto Raptors 75 years later. The team is doing a great job of seeing the forest (i.e. another deep playoff run) and not just the trees (i.e. rushing players back from injury for low-leverage regular season games). The ability to “get away” is also relevant because the Raptors are about to embark on a very rare non-All-Star-related break of five days!
Over the last two seasons, the Raptors have had a break as long as 5 days (or more) on four different occasions. With this being the fourth, let’s take a quick look at the previous three instances.
Last month, the Raptors returned from the All-Star break nicely refreshed from the 9-day layoff, to dismantle the visiting Phoenix Suns 118-101. Pascal Siakam looked very much rejuvenated from his first All-Star weekend, dropping 37 points, grabbing 12 boards, and draining 5 triples on the hapless Suns.
Last season, the Toronto returned from the 9-day break that was the All-Star break to host the San Antonio Spurs. In DeMar DeRozan’s long-awaited return to Toronto, it was Kawhi Leonard, who stole the show, and the ball, en route to a highly entertaining 120-117 victory.
During the 2019 playoffs, there was a 5-day break before the NBA Finals commenced. The Raptors came out hungrier than the Golden State Warriors, claimed an important Game 1 victory, and were led by Siakam. His 32 points, on a ridiculously efficient 14-for-17 shooting, eight rebounds, and five assists, were a preview of a Raptors championship and of Siakam’s impending ascent to stardom.
That the Raptors have performed well and in front of their home crowd shows that rust does not exist with this pesky bunch. Momentum is merely a word, and Toronto doesn’t need it to stay motivated from game-to-game.
March 9 @ Utah Jazz
It’s easy to remember the early December home game where the Raptors embarrassed the Jazz in front of a jubilant Scotiabank Arena crowd. In case you don’t remember — shame on you! Toronto raced out to a 77-37 (not a typo) halftime lead and never looked back.
The circumstances this time around are much more favourable for Utah. They’re in the midst of a 5-game win streak, with the last four all coming on the road. Utah’s most impressive performance was in Boston, where Mike Conley came alive (25 points and 6 triples) to avenge the Jazz’s last loss. Catching the Raptors on the back-end of a back-to-back — a hard-fought 48 minutes in Sacramento — as well as the end of a 5-game West road trip, could not have come at a better time for Utah.
The 2019-20 Jazz are a much different team from previous iterations. In each of the previous three seasons, Utah ranked slightly above league average offensively, but top-3 defensively. (Sounds very much like this season’s Raptors) This year, they’ve crept into the top-10 offensively for the first time since 2012-13, while the defense is now just on the outskirts of the top-10. Replacing Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder with Bojan Bogdanovic and Conley explains a lot about the team’s offensive and defensive shifts.
Rudy Gobert is in a tough battle with another European big — some would call a Freak — for the Defensive Player of the Year award (his 3rd consecutive, if successful). His impact stretches much greater than the defensive end. Gobert is the only player in the NBA to rank in the top-10 in both Offensive (4th) and Defensive Rating (9th).
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
Utah is the only team that has a pair of players — Bogdanovic and Mitchell — ranking in the top-20 in BOTH free throws and threes made. While Bojan has lived up to the salary (4yr/$73mill) Utah signed him for this past summer, Spida Mitchell has made “the leap” and garnered his first All-Star selection. The future is very bright in Salt Lake City.
While this could very well mark a rare occasion — a fully healthy Raptors squad — this game still has “schedule loss” written all over it. If Nurse is true to his word and limiting Marc Gasol to approximately 8-12 games, then he’ll surely sit this one out. If Fred VanVleet returns, he may be on a minutes restriction, in addition to working off the rust from missing the last two weeks. While Toronto has been able to overcome sloppiness to win three games on this road trip, Utah is not as flawed as Phoenix, Sacramento, or Golden State. The Raptors fall to the Jazz, 118-112.
March 14 vs. Detroit Pistons
Do you know how long this season’s been already? In October, the 15th roster spot for Detroit was a battle between Christian Wood and Joe Johnson! While the former Raptor killer had the name recognition, he was ultimately waived before November. Wood, on the other hand, has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise lost season in Detroit.
Since the trade deadline, Wood has averaged 20.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, while shooting 50.4% from the field, and 36.1% from three.
Another Raptor killer, Tony Snell, is on the precipice of NBA history. In 2018, Kobi Simmons became the only player to finish the regular season without missing a free throw (minimum 25 attempts). Snell is currently at 28-for-28. Steph Curry’s return may threaten that record, though. He’s currently at 26-for-26. With the amount of attempts he’s likely to get over the final 20-ish games, Curry will likely miss one... right?
Fun Fact That May Only Interest Me
For the third consecutive season, one of these teams will be looking to sweep the season series. Last season, Detroit won each of the three matchups in nail-biting fashion. Two of the wins were by one-possession, while the third was an overtime victory where Gasol missed the buzzer-beater in regulation.
Two seasons ago, the Raptors swept the Pistons, punctuated by one DeMar DeRozan.
Each of Toronto’s wins over the Pistons have been by double-digits. These are two teams headed in opposite directions. With Blake Griffin out for the season, Andre Drummond traded away for the corpses of Brandon Knight and John Henson, and no return in sight for Luke Kennard, silver linings in the Motor City have been few and far between. Toronto continues showing former Head Coach, Dwane Casey, what a true champion looks like, defeating the Pistons, 130-111.