It’s been a year and ten days since Toronto and Utah last played each other. That game was eventful, starting with a collision between OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, at the time the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, that knocked Powell out of the game. Future Clipper Serge Ibaka had a terrific performance, recording 27 points and 13 rebounds. Late in the fourth, Kyle Lowry hit a dagger. A sidestep, deep, left wing three at the end of the shot clock to put Toronto up five. Then, with just 40 seconds left, Anunoby and Rudy Gobert got into a scuffle and were subsequently ejected. The game was memorable not just because of the ejections and late game heroics from Lowry, but what preceded afterwards.
A year later and things are very different. Today, Utah is sitting atop the Western Conference standings at 29-11. Toronto is on a 6-game losing skid, falling from 5th to 11th in the Eastern Conference, and sits at 17-23. Utah have been struggling as of late, winning just five from their last 11. The recent history shows Toronto holds a 4-game win streak against Utah but continuing that streak tonight will be challenging. Toronto will be finally healthy for the first time in weeks.
Here are the details for tonight’s contest.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Utah – Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert
Toronto – None!
Utah – Mike Conley (hamstring - out), Udoka Azubuike (ankle – OUT)
Wednesday night’s 116-112 loss to Detroit saw a return to action for Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet for the first time since late February. Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, and OG Anunoby were all cleared to play but didn’t see the court. Siakam and VanVleet’s presence were seen primarily on the defensive end, where their communication on the front and back lines snuffed out much of Detroit’s early actions. On offense however, their rust showed.
Siakam took and made his first shot early in the opening frame but looked passive all night. VanVleet shot poorly as well, making just one of his seven 3-point attempts attempts. On the night they both had positive +/- in a close loss but minutes restrictions held them back, with Siakam playing just 30 minutes and VanVleet 32 minutes. OG Anunoby will play tonight, and we should see the same minute restrictions for him. We know recovering from COVID is not easy, but we hope all the players affected can get back to their best fitness soon.
Can the Jazz Strike Now?
After signing Rudy Gobert to a 5-year, $205 million extension, the Jazz have gone all in with their core. They have been playing at a blistering pace this season, shooting the lights out and climbing to the best record in the league. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley were named All-stars while Jordan Clarkson is in contention for 6th Man of the Year. Everything is clicking for the Jazz, and considering their recent playoff history, this year is their best opportunity for a deep playoff run.
Utah last made the conference finals in 2007, losing to eventual champions Spurs in just five games. It’s been a long time since then and recent playoff results have not been positive. The conference runs through the Lakers and Clippers, with the Suns, Nuggets, and Trailblazers all difficult match ups for Utah. In a season like this, where hot shooting drastically changes outcomes, the Jazz could be bounced in the first round just as easily as making it to the conference finals. However, if there is any time to go all the way for Utah, this is the time.
Six Days Away
The NBA trade deadline is just under a week away. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers have made the decision to sit LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond in anticipation of a trade. Toronto has two names, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell — two of the franchise’s longest tenured players — garnering a lot of attention in trade circles. A 6-game losing streak (and great individual play when it comes to Powell) has only made trade talk even louder.
Powell’s play this season has only been a revelation to those who haven’t been watching closely. He jumped from eight to 16 points per game over the past two seasons. His jump to 19.7 this season is well in line with how he played in the latter half of the 2019-20 season when he won Eastern Conference player of the Week right before play was suspended. This play is sustainable. Powell has only become more comfortable in his role within the offense this year. Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and the Toronto front office will look to improve at the deadline but “selling high” on Powell could end up being a controversial decision.