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Game Thread: Toronto Raptors @ New Orleans Pelicans

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The Raptors start the new year on the road in New Orleans, as they try to avenge their home opener loss against the Pelicans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The new year is a good starting point for a new beginning. With the calendar year turning, it’s also a time for this Raptors team to turn over a new leaf and hopefully leave behind the lousy start plaguing them this season. Right now, we can only hope.

It helps that the Raptors are fresh off a win against the New York Knicks which finally broke them into the win column. It was a strange contest for the Raptors as they were without Pascal Siakam, who was benched for disciplinary measures. That did, however, free up minutes and touches for Norman Powell, who broke out and helped his team secure their first win. Alex Len also made a solid contribution off the bench to help the squad pull away. The Knicks also helped out by shooting a horrible 3-for-36 from behind the arc.

The Pelicans, on the other hand, have had an up-and-down season thus far. They’ve beaten teams they’d like to compete against (including the Raptors) but have been decidedly crushed by the Miami Heat and the Phoenix Suns. Brandon Ingram is playing up to his potential, looking even better than his All-Star season last year. Zion Williamson, meanwhile, started the season on fire has seemed to fizzle out the previous two games. Issues of conditioning are beginning to creep up, and his minutes are on a decline, despite a restrictless season. Still, even with an ineffective Williamson, the Pelicans are a tough team to beat.

For the Raptors, there are still plenty of issues to resolve. Powell’s performance against the Knicks was a sight for sore eyes, but now we have to see if he can do it again. Toronto’s overall offense is still a big question mark, as Siakam has faded in the second half of games and OG Anunoby hasn’t quite exploded on that end. At the same time, Fred VanVleet has struggled to captain the team’s non-Kyle Lowry minutes, and coach Nick Nurse is still trying to find the right rotation. It’s a bit tough to watch, but let’s try to remember something else: we are now a month since the start of the training camp, and historically that’s how much time teams would normally have between training camp and the first game of the season.

As more time passes, perhaps we’ll see the Raptors come together a little better. For now, let’s get into a few storylines to watch for tonight’s contest. At 1-3 on the year, every little piece matters right now for Toronto.

Bench Unit: Powell, Chris Boucher, and Matt Thomas saw significant bench minutes during the home opener against the Pelicans. Meanwhile, Len had an instant-offense impact against the Knicks, and Stanley Johnson has played meaningful minutes these past two games, while Thomas’ minutes declined. How will this shake out tonight?

Perimeter Contest: Both the Raptors and Pelicans are hoisting up at least half of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. Their first meeting saw the two teams combine for 88 three attempts. The Pelicans won the battle behind the arc, as they dropped a total of 19 makes behind unlikely contributions from Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo ball, who netted four triples each. But now: can they do that again?

Siakam in the Fourth: Siakam’s been radio-silent in the fourth quarter, shooting a horrible 1-for-9 through three games. After being called out by Nurse, and subsequently getting benched for disciplinary reasons, Siakam badly needs a bounce-back game. Hopefully, Nurse can help Siakam create better scoring opportunities for himself.

Playoff Powell: It’s said heroes only appear during the time of need. Fortunately for the Raptors, Norm has a record for showing up in games of great importance, and the previous game against the Knicks was one of them. Now that the pressure is off a bit, is Powell going to revert to being Clark Kent again?

VanVleet Lineups: The VanVleet non-Lowry lineups have been horrible, but it wasn’t that bad against the Knicks. The Raptors have invested in Fred as the point guard of their future, and we’ll just have to see how that develops. The eye test suggests that VanVleet is struggling with his playmaking, but he’s been averaging at least six assists per game. While he’s still not at Lowry’s level when creating shots for his teammates, VanVleet hasn’t quite been helped by his teammates when finishing plays.

In any case, here’s a bit more from Muad Issa this morning, and below are the updated details.

Where to Watch

Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET

Lineups

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes

New Orleans — Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Injuries

Toronto — Patrick McCaw (out - knee)

New Orleans — Wenyen Gabriel (out - right knee)