Things have gotten ugly for the Raptors, and that’s putting it lightly. The team has now lost five games in a row, falling to a lowly 11th in the Eastern Conference. It’s abundantly clear that these losses are the product of a team playing without their best players, and yet the Raptors fan base is currently ablaze with trade machine ideas, tanking slogans (e.g. Fade for Cade) and general malaise. With the NBA trade deadline just over a week away, Masai Ujiri will have to decide the Raptors’ fate. Will the team give up midway through the season, gut the roster and bank on a high draft pick, or will they take one more swing at a championship in Kyle Lowry’s contract year?
There are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of the debate, though I would lean towards sticking it out and seeing what happens. The Raptors, when healthy, are still quite capable of capturing a playoff spot this year (albeit a low seed), and as we’ve seen the past couple of years, when it comes to the postseason, you never know what may happen! Additionally, if the Raptors were going to tank properly, it would have been much smarter to do so earlier in the year, when the team was nearing the bottom of the conference.
Conversely, the Raptors are practically guaranteed to land a dominant matchup in the first round of the playoffs, and in that scenario, Lowry’s tenure would likely come to an end in a particularly unpleasant fashion. Preparing for the future is important, and if management already views this season as a lost cause, then it may be wise to trade Lowry for assets, and secure some potential talent in the lottery.
Tonight, the Raptors take on the Detroit Pistons, owners of the second-worst record in the league. Dwane Casey and company have lost eight of their last ten games, which means that Detroit’s having an even uglier March than the Raptors — yikes. Pascal Siakam may make his return tonight, so let’s hope he can help put an end to the Raptors’ five-game skid.
Here are tonight’s game details:
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7:00 pm EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, DeAndre’ Bembry, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Detroit – Delon Wright, Rodney McGruder, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee
Toronto – Pascal Siakam (questionable – health and safety protocols), Fred VanVleet (doubtful – health and safety protocols), OG Anunoby (out – health and safety protocols), Patrick McCaw (questionable – health and safety protocols), Malachi Flynn (questionable – health and safety protocols)
Detroit – Hamidou Diallo (out - groin), Wayne Ellington (doubtful - adductor), Killian Hayes (out - hip), Rodney McGruder (questionable - elbow), Jahlil Okafor (out - knee), Dennis Smith Jr. (questionable - health and safety protocols)
Everybody Loves Norman
Norman Powell’s ascension on the offensive end has been phenomenal. Night in and night out, he has become the Raptors’ most reliable — and versatile — scorer. While the team’s core has been sidelined, Norm has been getting to the rim via cuts and drives, and he’s been hitting threes, both catch-and-shoot and off the dribble. He has been, without a doubt, the team’s most tantalizing player over the past few games.
Naturally, this begs the question: will Norm’s production fall off a cliff when the core returns, or will he continue to be a reliably efficient scorer? Being relegated to the bench often tends to bring out the worst in Norm, but if he can take what he’s learned from being the team’s primary scoring option and pick his shots carefully, he could be the exact spark this team needs.
On the other hand, if Masai believes Norm is due to fall back down to Earth once the core returns, we’re likely witnessing his last days in a Raptors uniform. On Tuesday, Zach Lowe reported on his podcast that many potential Powell suitors have already reached out to Ujiri to inquire about his availability. One way or the other, within the next week, we’re going to find out just how highly Toronto’s management thinks of Powell’s on-court abilities.
Guess Who’s Back?
Thankfully, Pascal Siakam has been cleared to practice, and is questionable to play tonight. If he does indeed suit up, it’ll be his first game back in the lineup since February 24th. Fred VanVleet has been cleared to practice as well, though he’s currently listed as doubtful to play. It cannot be overstated how important these two players are to the Raptors. Pascal’s versatility on both ends of the floor, as well as Fred’s shot making and tenacious defense, are invaluable assets. These players’ absences make for a gaping hole in the Raptors’ game plan that the team has been unable to overcome these past few games.
However, don’t suddenly expect everything to be all peaches and cream. It’ll take some time for these guys to get acclimated, and the general vibe surrounding the team is still tense. With the trade deadline quickly approaching, it’ll be interesting to see how tonight’s shot distribution goes between Pascal, Norm and Fred. Don’t read into it too much, though — if Norm’s role doesn’t diminish tonight, I’d chalk that up to OG Anunoby’s continued absence more than anything trade-value-boosting related.
No Time Like the Present
If the Raptors are going to turn things around, tonight would be the best time to start. Dreams of 2021 playoff success have been slowly fading away as the team slipped to five games under .500 for the first time since January 29th (and since 2013 before that). With the Raptors facing off against the lowly Pistons tonight, this is a perfect opportunity to reinvigorate the team with a dominant win.
On the other hand, if the Raptors lose again, be prepared for the inevitable chaos that will ensue. Sure, it’s reasonable to expect some rust out of the gate due to the reintegration of Siakam, coupled with general fatigue; however, at the end of the day, it would be completely unreasonable if the Raptors lost. The Pistons are riddled with injuries, and are, to put it simply, straight-up terrible. This loss would be so egregious and ill-timed that it may flip my opinion on tanking. Let’s pray for a turning of the tides tonight.