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Undermanned Raptors take on Hawks in first game back: Preview, start time, and more

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Still without many key players, the Raptors will look to take down Trae Young and his Hawks in Tampa.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NBA All-Star Game has come and gone, and once again Raptor fans have been forced to think about a potential Kyle Lowry mid-season trade. Not to say that anybody should respect or believe anything that comes out of Ryen Russillo’s mouth, but he was recently quoted as saying that Lowry not only believes he’ll be traded, but has been openly discussing his inevitable departure.

In response, Kyle posted an Instagram story claiming that the media is lying about him, and not to believe any rumours. Most recently, Michael Grange reported that the Raptors will keep Lowry past the deadline, and Kyle himself stated that he will retire as a Toronto Raptor:

Still, if Lowry is ultimately traded, fans should feel comfort in knowing that Masai Ujiri is at the helm. It is of this writer’s opinion that Masai wouldn’t ship out Lowry for pennies on the dollar, nor would he send him away against his own wishes. If Kyle finishes this season on another team, fans can take solace in knowing that it was, likely, the optimal scenario for all parties involved.

Tonight, the Raptors face off against the Atlanta Hawks. Though Trae Young and his team haven’t quite made the leap many were expecting, their season hasn’t been marred by too much disappointment either. Sure, Atlanta is currently sitting at 11th in the conference, but despite their losing record, the team is only one game back of the eighth seed, where the Raptors currently reside. Since firing head coach Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks have gone 2-0 under interim coach Nate McMillan.

The Raptors will once again be without most of their star players (the exception being Lowry), who are still adhering to the league’s health and safety protocols. Still, this first game back after the All-Star break is sure to be competitive, with both teams looking to improve their record in the latter half of the season.

Here are tonight’s details:

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:30 pm EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, DeAndre’ Bembry, Stanley Johnson, Aron Baynes

Atlanta – Trae Young, Tony Snell, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari, John Collins

Injuries:

Toronto – Pascal Siakam (out – health and safety protocols), Fred VanVleet (out – health and safety protocols), OG Anunoby (out – health and safety protocols), Patrick McCaw (out – health and safety protocols), Malachi Flynn (out – health and safety protocols), Terence Davis (questionable – ankle sprain)

Atlanta – Kris Dunn (out – ankle), De’Andre Hunter (out – knee), Cam Reddish (out – achilles)

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Limit Trae

He may not have been an All-Star this year, but Trae Young’s game always tends to stand out, both in the box score and on the floor. At any moment, Trae can make an intricate pass through traffic or a pull-up three from several feet behind the arc. When given space in the midrange, he’s no stranger to putting up a running floater in the lane, and he’s exceptional at suddenly changing speeds to draw fouls from unsuspecting defenders.

There are going to be times when Trae simply conjures up some magic that catches the Raptors off guard. In those situations, it’s imperative for the team to remain steady and focused on the next possession. The Raptors would require a smart, composed defender — and the occasional help defender — to limit Trae’s foul-drawing, playmaking, and three-point opportunities tonight. Of course, the team is currently depleted, so the Raptors may be out of luck in that regard.

Welcome Back

Tonight’s matchup is the first game back after the All-Star break, so it would not be surprising if the Raptors looked rusty. Players will need to get reacquainted with each other, so we may see some errant passes or miscommunication in the early going. With Nick Nurse’s tendency to tinker with lineups, I’m hoping DeAndre’ Bembry can get back into the flow of things relatively quickly and solidify his role in the rotation. His energy and secondary playmaking have been a pleasure to watch.

After a rough start to the season, Norman Powell picked up the slack in a major way. His game improved in nearly every facet, finishing at the rim with confidence and hitting threes with incredible efficiency. He was especially valuable prior to the All-Star break, filling in for his teammates who were unavailable due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Not to jinx anything, but historically, Norm has always managed to put together stretches of incredible play, followed by a break of some sort (usually due to injury) that tends to throw him off his rhythm. Hopefully, the Raptors can avoid that this time around.

Round into Form

As we tackle the second half of the season, Nurse is likely to start solidifying the rotation. There are still unanswered questions surrounding the role of multiple players on the team who’ve seen stretches of extended run, including Yuta Watanabe and Stanley Johnson. As we move forward, we’ll begin to have a better idea of what the rotation might look like come playoff time.

There are a couple of players who should be dangerously close to being ousted from the rotation entirely — Matt Thomas and Terence Davis. Thomas constantly struggles to get open on the perimeter, and has not capitalized on the few opportunities he’s had. Davis has a myriad of issues, including a complete lack of awareness and an inability to make sound decisions — though that hasn’t stopped him from getting minutes when healthy. If current trends continue, I don’t see a credible path to playing time for either of these two players.