The last time the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings played, the Raptors were in a dark place. They had only one win to show in seven games and questions abounded about their ability to even make the playoffs, let alone compete. In that contest, the Kings started off hot right off the gate, threatening to blow up the game early with a 19-point deficit in the first quarter. The dark times got even darker. Until the Raptors responded with one of their better offensive games of the season, and their first big-time win, 144-123.
Three weeks doesn’t seem to be a long time, but both teams are starting to figure out what’s working (and not) for them. For the Raptors, that’s meant regaining some of their defensive identity; the Kings, meanwhile, have been playing some of their best two-way basketball during their little two-game winning streak.
Of course, the Raptors are coming off two losses, which once again puts them in a weird place. Their defense is trending up, and Aron Baynes is starting to like an actual starting centre few games — to list just two examples of improvement. However, the team has also been hobbled by injuries to Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and OG Anunoby, who have all missed games recently. The recent losses have also killed whatever momentum the Raptors had built after winning five of their previous six games. It exposed other issues too, like the Raptors’ fourth-quarter scoring and some of Nick Nurse’s questionable bench rotation.
We should note here that the Kings’ record has benefitted from the cancellation of games against the Memphis Grizzlies due to Health and Safety Protocols. (A problem that hasn’t hit Toronto yet, but we’ll see.) After snapping their four-game skid against the Knicks, they had four days of inactivity, giving them time for a mini-camp of sorts. As a result, the Kings came out with a balanced attack against the Orlando Magic last Wednesday.
The Raptors are on a lineup watch alert. OG Anunoby remains questionable, and we don’t yet his status for tonight. Kyle Lowry’s infected toe might still be a concern, as his play and shooting as of late have been irratic. We’ve also got to keep an eye on Siakam, as Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday had him going full Bambi to clinch the game Wednesday night. That’s not a good look for someone with groin and knee issues.
OG is officially questionable. McCaw still out.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 28, 2021
Where to Watch
Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Sacramento — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Toronto — OG Anunoby (calf - questionable), Patrick McCaw (knee - out)
Sacramento — Nemanja Bjelica, (back - doubtful), Jahmi’us Ramsey (groin - out), DaQuan Jeffries (ankle - out)
Searching for Additional Bench Scoring
With Norman Powell playing like peak Michael Jordan as a starter — at least confidence-wise — there’s a big void to fill scoring-wise on Toronto’s bench. It doesn’t help that Chris Boucher is in a slump right now, averaging just 8.8 points on just 35 percent shooting in his last five games. It’s not on Boucher to “fix” the Raptors’ woes in this area, but that’s a far cry from the previous six-game stretch where he was almost casually posting stats of 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks.
The Raptors have looked elsewhere in their search for a consistent bench, and they’ve seen the limitations of all involved. For example, both Stanley Johnson and Yuta Watanabe can guarantee maybe bucket each game, which just might not be enough — even with their superb defense. As continues to be the case, Nurse’s response to every scoring drought: more defense.
Fourth Quarter Offense
Given the shot-happy and pro-transition nature of both these teams, this Raptors-Kings matchup could be a blow-out either way. As we saw the last time these two teams player, the score swung wildly from quarter to quarter depending on who was hot from deep.
That said, what if this game does become tight in the fourth quarter? For the Raptors as of late, a close game has just not been where they want to be. In that case, it’ll be interesting to see Nurse’s adjustments to get the team into better scoring positions. Perhaps adding more floor spacers by going small? Or do they need big man to clear out defenders with his screens? Going small has been the Raptors’ primary option in crunchtime, but the results have been mixed. Something to keep in mind here.
Exploiting the Raptors’ Weaknesses
The last time the Kings and the Raptors met, Sacramento primarily played man-to-man defense. It allowed Pascal Siakam and the Raptors to operate better in space and establish their rhythm. If they do that again tonight, there’s reason to believe that Siakam once again could find himself and his touch at the basket.
But the Indiana Pacers recently exposed the Raptors’ weakness against the blitz defense in the pick-and-roll. The Raptors struggled to execute anything once the ball was out of the hands of their primary ball handlers. It will be interesting if coach Luke Walton implements both tactics — man-to-man and blitz — as they have the athletes to do the job. De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, and their two mobile bigs in Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes’ athletic profile suggests that they should be able to do just that. Also keep an eye out for any zone defense the Kings through the Raptors’ way. When Toronto is on with their shot it’s a dangerous idea, but when their bricking, suddenly a zone defense is tricky for them to solve.