The Toronto Raptors are coming off two straight impressive wins in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Even with Kyle Lowry sitting out with an injured thumb, if feels like the Raptors are a team that has finally discovered its identity — and not a moment too soon, as we’re fast approaching the halfway mark of the season.
Toronto’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves feels like ages ago. In reality, the Raptors are set to play the Timberwolves again for the second time in five nights. Only this time, it feels like the momentum is firmly on their side. Yes, Lowry is expected to be out, and the Raptors are playing their second game on a back-to-back, but with OG Anunoby’s return acting as a game-changer, coach Nick Nurse can — and has — trotted out his best lineup, style of play, and rotation. Though different from last season, it feels like the Raptors are back.
It’s also worth noting that a win against Minnesota would bring the Raptors to the .500 mark for the first time this season. Meanwhile, the Wolves remain very much the worst team in the league, having tacked on a couple more losses since their last meeting with the Raptors. And hey, with Lowry out, the Raptors have still been pretty solid — we may even get to see more of Malachi Flynn, who’s been killing it recently with the 905.
Raptors have won 14 in a row without Kyle Lowry in the lineup, outscoring opponents by nearly 14 points per game pic.twitter.com/LfShQXPO5v— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 19, 2021
Judging the Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Lowry’s post-game interviews after their loss to the Timberwolves, it certainly sounds like there’s plenty of motivation all-around for the Raptors to get this W.
Here are the details for tonight’s game and a few things to watch out for.
Where to Watch
TSN, 9:00 PM ET
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, DeAndre’ Bembry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Minnesota — Ricky Rubio, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (out - thumb), Patrick McCaw (out - knee)
Minnesota — D’Angelo Russell (leg – out), Jarrett Culver (ankle – out)
It’s said that one of the hallmarks of a good team is their ability to win the back-end of their back-to-back games. The past two seasons, the Raptors have gone 8-3 in such games, which is quite a feat. Even more impressive is the fact that opposing teams have often had to really earn a win against the Raptors in such situations.
This season, however, the Raptors are 0-4 in the second game of their back-to-back games. It’s been a bit alarming this year to see key players looking gassed early and often. Part of the reason for this has been the Raptors’ reliance on a somewhat shorter rotation at times. And it’s no secret that Nurse has been coaching this team sometimes as if they’re down 0-2 in a playoff series. The trust hasn’t quite been there outside of the core Raptors.
But now the small injuries are starting to pile up, and the players expected to come up big in crunch time are playing heavy fourth quarter minutes — if not the entire frame. While Lowry is out tonight, it does seem like Nurse’s trust with his rotation has increased, which may help spread the minutes around a bit for Toronto. We’ll see if signs of fatigue pop up again.
Fresh Legs Warning
Despite the above, the Timberwolves are going to have the fresher legs tonight, having played at home all week and after an off-day yesterday. The Raptors will have little rest as they immediately travelled to Minnesota after their game against the Bucks last night. In their efforts, VanVleet and Siakam played almost 40 minutes in each of the past two games, so the Raptors will have to dig deep to secure a win tonight.
Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves are back to their losing ways since stealing a win in Tampa. Towns is still rounding into shape, as he’s still dealing with his wrist injury (and the full impact of COVID). Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards, the team’s latest number one overall pick, is starting to put together more games that should get him into the Rookie of the Year conversation. In their last meeting, it was clear that Minnesota’s length and athleticism bothered the Raptors. But the Raptors have OG back now, and seem to have reformed their identity a bit. Let’s see if that’s enough to win out, given Minneota’s energy advantage.
Malachi Flynn left the Gubble (the G League Bubble) yesterday after averaging 25.7 points while shooting 52.6 percent behind the arc, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals in his last three games. After a shakey start to his G League campaign, Flynn looks like he’s settled in quite well. His stats actually understate a bit how well he’s been playing for the 905.
Assuming Lowry might miss a game or two, it would be cool to see Flynn get the chance to use his new confidence in an NBA game. Right now, he’s been called up only as an emergency guard (he got a few minutes in garbage time against Milwaukee, for example), but it may be worthwhile to give him an extended run. Keep in mind that Flynn would have to quarantine again to re-enter the Gubble, and there are only nine games left to play in the G League regular season. In this, he would miss at least three games, depending on when the Raptors re-assign him. So, if Toronto plans on keeping Flynn with the main club for a while, he may as well get his reps in and hopefully build off the momentum he’s built in the past week.