For their second game of a home-and-home series, the Raptors hit the road tonight to pay a visit to their new neighbours, the Orlando Magic. The two sides met only two nights ago, during which Toronto came away with the convincing win, 115-102.
In that contest, Pascal Siakam put together a 30-point performance for his second straight game, while Kyle Lowry dished out 15 assists, and Aron Baynes tried his best Marc Gasol impersonation. The Australian centre put the pressure on Nikola Vucevic, holding the Magic centre to just 15 points while grabbing a season-high 16 rebounds in the win. Overall, despite their defensive rating not holding true to their identity of seasons past, the Raptors have shown they still have that discipline. Active hands, rim protection, and movement on defense made the difference against a suffering Magic squad.
But the main difference that helped snap their three-game losing skid a few nights ago was the intensity the squad had right from tip-off. The Raptors didn’t let up for much, setting the tone on both ends (unlike in some their previous games). And with the Magic suffering injuries to Michael Carter-Williams, Al-Farouq Aminu, Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, and now, Toronto’s most wanted, Aaron Gordon, tonight’s game should be more of the same for the 10th placed team in the East.
It all goes down again tonight, as the Raptors look to close the gap on eighth spot in the east.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Orlando – Cole Anthony, Evan Fournier, James Ennis III, Chuma Okeke, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – Norman Powell (quad – doubtful), OG Anunoby (calf – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT)
Orlando – Aaron Gordon (left ankle – OUT), Michael Carter-Williams (foot – OUT), Markelle Fultz (knee – OUT), Jonathan Isaac (knee – OUT), Al Farouq Aminu (knee – OUT)
Feed the Hot Hand
We don’t know where Pascal went, but we’re glad he’s back. Is it too soon to call this a return to form for Pascal Siakam who’s coming off back-to-back 30-point performances for the Raptors. If It is, I can live with that. The max contract player has gone back to what serves him well, scoring in the paint. All 30 of Siakam’s points on Sunday came courtesy of buckets from that zone, plus a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. Yep, you read that right — if it was a three-pointer, Siakam didn’t want it.
It’s been a trend as of late for the Cameroonian, after scoring only four points in the paint against Milwaukee, Siakam only attempted one-three pointer in his 32-pont game against Sacramento prior to the first Orlando game. As Sunday rolled around, he attacked the paint consistently and comfortably, albeit in due part to the defensive absence of Orlando’s Isaac. Still, it looked like Siakam could do no wrong as he went 12-for-23, grabbing 10 boards along the way.
The Raptors have barely gotten by without Siakam’s offensive contributions on a nightly basis, so tonight’s game will not only be important for his improvement but for their season as well. With the start of a six-game road trip for the Tampa tourists starting tonight, rhythm and confidence will be needed in abundance.
It’s Time to Start Yuta
Okay, maybe not yet, but you can’t help but get excited for the Japanese forward. Going 3-for-3 from deep, while recording a steal and three massive blocks a game ago, Watanabe is part of a trio of Raptors that are starting to provide the secondary depth that the Raptors so desperately need.
Alongside two-way wings DeAndre’ Bembry and Stanley Johnson, the three have slowly earned their minutes and the perception of defensive stoppers off the bench. For Watanabe in particular, after a quiet two seasons in Memphis, an opportunity to sign another contract, let alone make game changing plays is the culmination of everything he’s worked so hard for and continues to work towards.
Yuta Watanabe explaining how important this stretch has been to him. He doubted he'd ever get this stretch. Now he's finally getting a chance and he's really proud of himself. pic.twitter.com/XJEQ4FqEjr— (@AaronBenRose) February 1, 2021
And somehow it still hasn’t gone to his head. He’s active, he’s calm on offense and he doesn’t demand the ball, understanding the right play to make in order get a quick bucket. Watanabe has slowly turned into a fan favourite, and with his recent play has certainly earned his spot in the rotation. Maybe it is time to start him?
Black History Month
February marks the annual celebration and recognition of Black History Month, and with today being the second day of the month, and the Raptors first game in February, I think it’s important to acknowledge it.
With the only Black President of Basketball Operations in the League, the Raptors are no stranger to diversity in leadership, as Masai Ujiri was just the second Black executive to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2019. Serving as a Senior Advisor with the team, Wayne Embry broke barriers as the first Black General Manager in 1972 in the NBA. In a league that currently features just seven Black head coaches, the Raptors provided a rare opportunity to assistant coach Adrian Griffin to hold the post in the NBA Bubble last summer — earning his first win in his only game in the role.
There is still much to do however in the fight against racism and to put an end to discrimination of all forms. The Raptors, like many teams in the NBA, have been strong supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement that has taken shape across the world, most emphatically last summer. For Black History Month the players have already reflected on what this month means to them.