Back-to-backs are never a good thing, but the Toronto Raptors set themselves up for success tonight against the Brooklyn Nets by blowing out the Sacramento Kings last night. Fred VanVleet played just 26 minutes last night — the first time this season he played fewer than 30. Pascal Siakam also squeaked under 30, and Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes played just 31 and 32, respectively.
Which means the Raptors are about as well-rested as they can be on the second night of a back-to-back. But they’ve got a tall task in front of them tonight.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
Brooklyn – Kevin Durant, DeAndre’ Bembry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, James Harden
Toronto – Precious Achiuwa (health and safety protocols – out), OG Anunoby (hip – out), Dalano Banton (illness – out), Khem Birch (knee – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
Brooklyn – Joe Harris (ankle – out), Paul Millsap (health and safety protocols – out), Kyrie Irving (sigh – out)
Finding a groove
If you had any doubts at the start of the season about the Brooklyn Nets, what with James Harden being out of shape and Kyrie Irving being, well, Kyrie Irving, now’s probably a good time to cast those doubts aside. The Nets are 7-3 in their past 10 and have jumped to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 19-8 record. And Kevin Durant, well, he’s just doing stuff like this with regularity:
Durant is averaging a league-leading 29 points per game along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He’s doing it on 53/38/88 shooting splits too.
The Raptors, without a centre or their best defender in OG Anunoby, will have their hands full tonight.
In all things, balance
I don’t know if this was a deliberate choice for some COVID-related reason, but the Raptors have had an oddly balanced home-road schedule this season. They just had a six-game road trip followed by a seven-game homestead; starting on December 28, the Raptors play seven of eight at home, then go on a five-game road trip!
Of course, it all evens out in the end. But I’m not sure what’s worse: Bouncing around every couple of games, or setting in to a routine based on familiarity only to have to start over again?
The Raptors started the season with a roster that was, perhaps, a bit light on top end talent, but one that seemed high on back-end depth. Svi Mykhailiuk, Yuta Watanabe, Chris Boucher, Goran Dragic, and one of Khem Birch or Precious Achiuwa, looked like a pretty solid bench! And then Dalano Banton exploded out of the gate, too.
Thanks to injuries and now Dragic’s absence, those bench players have been pressed into longer minutes and more unfamiliar roles, and the results have been… well, pretty bad! Heading into last night’s game, they were a scoring a league-worst 23.3 points per game, and shooting a league-worst 26% from there-point range.
Still, there’s hope. The bench played well last week against Washington, and were excellent last night against the Kings. Neither of those opponents are seeing the world on fire lately, of course, and Toronto’s bench did have two subpar games in between, scoring just 24 points total against the Thunder and the Knicks.
But hey — sometimes a game against a team like the Kings is all you need to kickstart something. Yuta Watanabe and Malachi Flynn both playing inspired ball last night, and Mykhailiuk knocked down both of his three-point attempts. The group will be without Banton tonight (non-COVID-related illness), but hopefully they can build off what they accomplished last night.