After dropping the first game of their five-game road trip, the Raptors have bounced back with three consecutive victories. They conclude the trip tonight in Utah before a well deserved four days off in hopes of getting healthier.
Marc Gasol returned last night versus Sacramento after missing 15 games and Fred VanVleet is inching closer, but his return is more likely to happen on Saturday when the Raptors return home. Once VanVleet is back, all the Raptors main pieces will once again be health — assuming nothing occurs tonight.
The Jazz come into tonight having won five straight, four of which came on the road. For a team with only nine losses at home this season, four of those have come in the Jazz’s last five games at the Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Since Feb. 28, the Jazz have the second-best offensive rating in the league at 119.7, which adds up to the third best net rating in that timeframe. The Raptors on the other hand are working on establishing their returning players into the lineup. It’s a perfect time for everyone to return as the final stretch of the season is on and teams are beginning to prep for the playoffs.
Let’s get up to speed with the details for tonight’s game and some things to keep an eye on heading into the contest.
Where to Watch:
TSN at 9 p.m. EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Utah – Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
Toronto – Fred VanVleet (questionable – shoulder), Dewan Hernandez (out – ankle)
Utah – Nigel Williams-Goss (out – quadriceps)
While the Raptors have one of the best interior defenses in the league by only allowing 42.2 points in the paint per game, which ranks second in the NBA, the Jazz have one of the best interior defenders in Rudy Gobert. Still, the Jazz are 11th in the league in points allowed in the paint.
Having that presence down low can make it tough to actually get the rim, so the Raptors, who usually have no trouble shooting the three-ball, will need their long-range touch in this one. It’ll help that in the month of March, OG Anunoby is shooting 56.3 percent from deep, and Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry are hovering around 40%. Now we’ll have to see if tonight we get Gasol firing — to draw Gobert away from the net — or if he’ll be hesitant. It could make or break Toronto’s offense.
Closing the Outside
Setting aside interior play though, the Raptors’ perimeter defense will have to be at its best tonight. With the Jazz scoring at will over their last few games, shutting their outside game down is a must. Utah for the season ranks second with a 38.3 three-point shooting percentage and in their last five they’re a touch higher at almost 40 percent. It’s not enough to stop Gobert dunks — the Raptors will need to contain shooters.
The Jazz have four players shooting above 40 percent (minimum three attempts per game) over the last five. It’ll be important to close out on Joe Ingles, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and, sure, Georges Niang, while being aware of all the other weapons the Jazz have.
Leave It On the Floor
Following this game, the Raptors receive four rest days before hosting the cratering Pistons. While leaving it all out there is important, avoiding any freak accidents or injuries is also important.
On the second night of a back-to-back on the last day of a long road trip, there could definitely be some tired legs on Toronto. Now, the Raptors have actually won their last four games when on that second night, so it’s not like they plan on just giving up. We know Fred VanVleet is not going to play, but it’s not yet clear if Gasol will get an uptick in minutes having just returned last night and easing back into it. His presence could give the squad a boost on both ends. Coach Nick Nurse will have the option to ride his main rotation players or try to find some bench spark — which has been lacking lately — but it’s going to take a team effort to get the win and start this well-deserved break off right.