It was a weird night in Florida, as the Toronto Raptors were without Nick Nurse and most of the coaching staff, and without Pascal Siakam too. Meanwhile they were facing the post-James Harden Houston Rockets for the very first time. Things looked a little different out there!
But weirdness aside, it was great to see the team put together a solid 122-11 win without too much drama.
1. Fred + Bench… Again?
The Raptors seem hell-bent on making Fred VanVleet + bench groups work, and so far, it just isn’t. The score was 19-16 in favour of the Raptors when Kyle Lowry first went to the bench last night, and as the subs filtered in that score quickly turned: the Rockets went on an 11-0 run and when Lowry replaced VanVleet four minutes later, the score was 29-23 Rockets.
Naturally, the Lowry + bench group outscored the Rockets 18-9 over the next three minutes.
Let’s not overthink things here. FVV may be the heir apparent to Lowry but while we still have Kyle, there’s nothing better than Lowry + bench units.
2. Yuta Back!
Yuta Watanabe had been the invisible man since getting posterized by Anthony Edwards last week, but temporary head coach Sergio Scariolio brought him back into the fold last night. Watanabe played 17 minutes and did an excellent job on the defensive end, closing out on Houston’s shooters well — especially in the corners, where the Rockets are deadly.
Offensively, Watanabe missed four of his six shots, but the two he did make were impressive.
First, he flashed the Eurostep:
(Extra impressive that that came after a made basket — although that probably says more about Houston’s D than anything else.)
Second, he pump-faked into a hard dribble, stopped on a dime and floated in a banker:
He tried that same move again two plays later but was a little off-balance, and the shot went long. It’s great to see his offensive game coming around, though; he has all the makings of a full rotation player.
3. Do Not Adjust Your TV Set
Speaking of offensive game, how about this Aron Baynes baseline turnaround J?
It’s the Rockets, so maybe Baynes was channelling a little Hakeem Olajuwon there?
Seriously, give Baynes credit there for his awareness of the clock as it ticked down — that’s a heads-up play. He finished with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting, along with six boards, in 15 minutes.
4. How Much Money is Norm Powell Making Himself?
Norman Powell had another stellar offensive night last night, scoring 30 points on 20 possessions (10-15 FG, 4-8 3FG, 6-6 FT).
He’s now averaging a career-high 17.7 points on 48/43/90 shooting splits. And don’t forget, he had that slow start, too; if you remove the first six games of the season, he’s up to 19.8 ppg with 51/44/91 splits. Oh, and in 21 games as a starter? 21.4 ppg on 52/45/92.
These numbers are… actually kinda insane. Sure, Powell doesn’t rebound much and although his decision-making has improved significantly the past two years, he still doesn’t rack up many assists. But that’s elite scoring efficiency, the sort of thing pretty much any team can use.
There’s gonna be a lot of free agent money out there this coming offseason, and Powell can opt out of his current contract. He’s surely gonna do that, and some team is gonna throw the bag at him, and he deserves it. Is he gonna get the VanVleet bag? Or more? I honestly think it might be more!
5. Never Trade This Man
How much joy has Kyle Lowry brought us over the years? It’s incalculable, but yesterday the full package was on display. We got an entire afternoon of Kyle Lowry as player-coach jokes, a masterful triple-double performance on the court (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, plus a steal, a block, and a charge taken) and then — because he’s just about the greatest teammate ever too — he grabbed the game ball to give to coach Scariolo for his first NBA win.
To top it off, he gave us an all-time post-game interview, too:
Do not trade this man. Ever.
Things are really heating up in the East now: Seeds four through 10 are only separated by a single game. The Raptors had best use this soft part of the schedule to create some separation!