Game 20 of the season has never been a must-win, for any team, ever. It sure does feel like Sunday’s tilt against the Magic is one for the Raptors, though. A mere week ago, things were looking rosy. The team had gone 6-1 since its 2-8 start, had just picked up an inspiring short-handed win over the Pacers, and the team’s rotation pieces seemed to be falling into place.
Three games, three losses, and a truly embarrassing defensive performance against the Kings on Friday night later, and the Raptors sit 7-12, barely clinging on to a positive point differential, and missing two of their five best players. The difference in the standings between 7-13 and 8-12 is just a single game, but it sure feels like a half dozen or so, especially when you consider the conventional NBA wisdom that suggests 20 games are about what you need to get a handle on a team.
The thing is, it doesn’t even seem like the Raptors have a handle on who they are right now. Whack-a-mole injuries and roller coaster performances from the likes of Terence Davis, Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes have thrown Nick Nurse’s rotation into flux. Toronto enters this one having used a different starting lineup in six straight games. They’ll break that trend tonight, as Davis draws back in — even though a seventh new starting five in a row would have been nice to see if it sent Davis back to the bench. Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry all would have been preferable in that spot, for more than one reason...
One can only hope that the trend we saw forming late in the Kings came, as the Raptors’ attempted another faux comeback, continues to gain steam in tonight’s game. Davis is a bad decision maker whose defense wipes out the value of his scoring without fail. Watanabe, Johnson and Bembry are limited, sure, but they’re also adults who connect the Raptors on both ends of the floor. They got the call to close on Friday while Davis got benched for most of the second half. If that trio can nudge their way further into Nurse’s plans and drive Davis further out of them, it’ll be just as exciting an outcome as an actual win.
A win over Orlando, coupled with a smarter, less maddening rotation would go a long way towards easing the despair sinking into the Raptors’ fan base right now as Toronto’s second 10-game chunk of the season comes to an end. A loss might top Friday night as the team’s low point of the season.
Before the game, check out Zakaria’s preview, and enjoy!
Where to Watch
Sportnet Ontario, 7pm EST
Orlando — Cole Anthony, Evan Fournier, James Ennis, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, TBD, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Orlando — Al-Farouq Aminu (knee — out), Michael Carter-Williams (foot — out), Markelle Fultz (knee — out for season), Jonathan Isaac (knee — out for season), Chuma Okeke (knee — out)
Toronto — Norman Powell (quad — out), OG Anunoby (calf — out), Patrick McCaw (knee — out)