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Raptors host under-manned Clippers to cap off year: Preview, start time, and more

The last game of a brutal 2021 calendar year sees Toronto welcome a familiar face back to the ScotiaBank Arena.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

After a 144-99 beatdown at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, followed by a close loss against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors are nearly out of the health & safety protocols that have hampered them for so long.

Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes have all been cleared to resume playing. With only Justin Champagnie and Isaac Bonga still under protocols, Toronto will be one day closer to having their full roster available for the first time in forever.

The Los Angeles Clippers on the other hand, are amid their very own health problems. Top of the list: Paul George. It was announced a week ago that George will miss at least a month with a torn ligament in his right elbow. George, who did well in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, is averaging 24.7 points per contest this season and keeping his team over water with 14-12 record with him in the lineup. Ivica Zubac, Brandon Boston Jr., and Jay Scrubb are all in health & safety protocols with Reggie Jackson questionable to play.

Here are the details for tonight’s New Year Eve’s game.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:30PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

Los Angeles – Eric Bledsoe, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka

Injuries:

Toronto — Justin Champagnie (health and safety protocols – out), Isaac Bonga (health and safety protocols – out), David Johnson (calf – out), Khem Birch (return to competition reconditioning – probable), Precious Achiuwa (return to competition reconditioning – probable), Goran Dragic (personal – out)

Los Angeles – Ivica Zubac (health and safety protocols – out), Brandon Boston Jr. (health and safety protocols – out), Reggie Jackson (conditioning – questionable), Nicolas Batum (ankle – out), Moses Wright (health and safety protocols – out), Jay Scrubb (health and safety protocols – out) Paul George (elbow – out), Isaiah Hartenstein (ankle – out), Jason Preston (foot – out), Kawhi Leonard (knee – out)

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Starting Lineup?

It’s been 31 games and there is still a question of what the best starting lineup could be for Nick Nurse and company. Should they go small up front? Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby? Or should they go big in the backcourt? Fred VanVleet with Anunoby slotting in the 2-spot? Should they be more traditional with one of Khem Birch or Precious Achiuwa replacing Scottie Barnes?

Closing with the five best players is a given. However, having one of Siakam/Barnes/Anunoby guarding 5s off the bat is a tough task to ask of any wing. Toronto has not been healthy all season, so it’s never been a problem until now. It seems the smaller front court is the answer for now but let’s see if things change or stay fluid.

Welcome Home

Serge Ibaka, or also known as Ma Fuzzy, original man from the motherland, 100% pure, Mr. Avec Class, “I don’t do fashion, I do art”, is making his return to Toronto for the first time in nearly two years. His tenure in Toronto featured four conference semi-finals appearances and one NBA title, all of which he played a major contributing role. Since signing a two-year contract with the Clippers however, things have been unfortunate.

A back injury kept him out majority of last season and the subsequent surgery held him out in the beginning of this one. He’s only played in 16 games this season with a career low 14.8 minutes per game. With both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George injured, there is little hope in playoff contention for the Clippers this season. Ibaka, a free agent at the end of the season, hopes to show he has more in the tank this season, whether with the Clippers or anywhere else.

Goodbye 2021

The Raptors’ 2020-2021 season was a disaster. Playing the entirety of the season on the road, a COVID outbreak that derailed said season and kickstarting a 10-game losing streak, culminating in not making the playoffs for the first time in seen years. Thanks to Tampa for hosting the Raptors but I hope for the sake of good basketball we never see something like that happen again.

The good? Scottie Barnes. Giving Masai Ujiri a top 5 pick has pushed this franchise right back into a competitive future. Toronto sits only 3 games under .500. Let’s close the year with a win. Happy New Year Everyone!