Winners of two in a row — both over the Magic – Toronto continues to ease their way back to respectability in the Eastern Conference standings at 9-12. If their last outing was any indication of the upside of their personnel, the future looks bright. There’s still a shine on Fred VanVleet’s 54-point game, coming in a 123-108 victory in Orlando — a franchise record mark that surpassed DeMar DeRozan’s 52-point game in 2018.
VanVleet will certainly be one to watch in this outing, as the Raptors will need all the scoring they can get against the superstar-studded Nets. Now with James Harden added to the mix along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (all healthy, it’s worth noting), Brooklyn has quickly asserted themselves as the league’s best offense. While it’s not all roses on the other end, it’s made for a lot of exciting games — we might be in for another, worthy of a Friday night billing at Barclays Center.
Here are the game details, followed by three things to watch for as the Raptors take on the Nets.
Where to Watch
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Brooklyn — Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan
Toronto — OG Anunoby (out - calf), Patrick McCaw (out - knee)
Brooklyn — Iman Shumpert (questionable - not with team), Nicolas Claxton (out - knee), Spencer Dinwiddie (out - knee)
Eyes on Fred
After becoming the fourth Raptors player in history to notch a 50-point game, VanVleet will be a critical piece on Friday; Nick Nurse knows that scoring is essential against this Nets team.
Nick Nurse, asked if they feel like they need to put up at least 120 points to hang with the Nets tomorrow: "That might be a little light. Add 10 to that... You're not going to shut them out so you're going to have to score some points."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) February 4, 2021
The pressures are even higher without OG Anunoby in the lineup, who will continue to sit with a calf injury. VanVleet’s ability to shoot the ball will be important and should be helped by his opposition, as neither James Harden nor Kyrie Irving are known for their defensive prowess.
No shade to those two, though, as VanVleet will be just as important on the other end. Lost in his monster scoring stat line on Tuesday were three steals and three blocks, many of those coming with some great instincts in help defense. Whether faced against Harden or Irving, VanVleet will need to tax himself on both ends if the Raptors are going to come away with a win.
Since acquiring James Harden in the NBA’s biggest blockbuster in some time, it’s been a tale of two ends for the Nets.
In the last ten games, they’ve posted the league’s best offensive rating — a ridiculous 121.0 — but have suffered on defense, with the league’s second-worst mark at 118.2. This has made for games with ludicrous scores, including a 147-125 win over Oklahoma City, a 149-146 loss to the Wizards, and, most recently, a 124-120 victory over the Clippers. With a record of 13-9, they’re still in the thick of the hunt in the East, but one thing’s for sure — they’re good for some exciting games until they figure out the defensive side of the ball.
What does this mean for the Raptors? It’s an opportunity to get out and run for a team that thrives on turning turnovers into transition baskets. Toronto has the NBA’s best opponent turnover percentage at 16.8%, and while you can’t expect the likes of Irving, Harden, and Durant to give up possessions willingly, the chance to get steals, get out on the break, and get the game to your liking are all there against Brooklyn.
KD and Pascal
Believe it or not, the last time the Raptors lined up against Kevin Durant it was in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. With a season, a pandemic, and about 2,000 kilometres between that game and now, it might be difficult to remember just how Durant has killed these Raptors over the last ten years. While playing with two other superstars, there’s no question that Durant has taken the moral lead on this Brooklyn team, and his matchup on Friday with Pascal Siakam will definitely be one to watch.
The one aspect of this I’m watching for is Siakam’s ability to shoot. His three point shot was once a huge weapon for Toronto, but it’s been abysmal since the first week of the season — falling all the way to 11.1% in the Raptors’ last five outings.
Against a team like Brooklyn, Siakam is going to have opportunities to shoot if they’re given to him; and while VanVleet’s scoring is important to start, Siakam will need to put up a big point total as well. Seeing some long distance shots fall would go a long way towards that.