If there was ever a clear-cut opportunity for the Raptors to end their current losing streak, which has now reached seven games — their worst since 2012 — it comes tonight versus a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has lost five of their last six.
With the Raptors’ key players back the last couple games after dealing with COVID and the league’s health and safety protocol, life on the court for the Raptors has been a bit better. Though the lost on Friday night, Toronto did take the Utah Jazz — who hold the best record in the NBA — to the brink of a loss. Yes, the Raptors did eventually fall 115-112, but the team effort from tip-off to final buzzer gives hope to a brighter future. At least that’s the hope right now.
The Cavaliers on the other hand are doing their best to give their young players an opportunity to establish themselves in the league. As with any young squad, this means there will be rocky times. While the Cavs, led by Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, have some big-time wins this season, the team is still just 15-26, and operating without much veteran pedigree. If the Raptors want to end their losing streak, tonight presents about as good an opportunity as they’re likely to get.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Cleveland – Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Larry Nance, Jarrett Allen
Toronto – None
Cleveland – Andre Drummond (out – personal reasons), Taurean Prince (out – shoulder), Kevin Love (out - calf), Matthew Dellavedova (out – appendectomy), JaVale McGee (questionable - illness)
They Will Fall
After watching Siakam’s shot at the end of the game versus the Jazz basically fall halfway through the hoop only to rollout, it’s clear the Raptors are close to getting a bounce go their way.
A lot of the cause for this seven-game losing skid is because so many key guys were out, but with everyone back on the Raptors and at least a couple games under their belts, it is coming together for the squad. Maybe I’m just optimistic, but it recalls that similar February four-game win streak when Toronto won two against Milwaukee and one versus Philadelphia. The law of averages suggests some sort of evening out — eventually the basketball gods have to say, “this team deserves a bounce.” Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here, but a locked in Raptors team should expect some better luck against a struggling team like the Cavaliers.
Game of Pace
As a young team, the Cavaliers are going to want to get out and run. The worst thing that can happen for this team against the Raptors is to get caught in a half-court situation against a set defense. On the flip side, the Raptors will also be looking to run, which may favour the Cavaliers. This will be something of a tricky balance to manage.
On paper, we know the Raptors are a better defensive team than Cleveland. But the Cavaliers do have Sexton and Garland, in particular, along with wings like Okoro, who can stress-test a defense with their up-tempo style and one-on-one ability. Sure, it doesn’t always work, and a savvy team can slow them down, but they’re going to put as much pressure on the Raptors as they can. Fortunately, even as the returning Raptors (Siakam, VanVleet, and OG) get back into their groove, this could help the team in the short and long term. They need to get their legs under them again and re-discover some of their magic in transition.
Nick Nurse didn’t seem to have much interest in using his whole bench on Friday night. Outside of Chris Boucher, the only players to play more than 10 minutes were Malachi Flynn and Paul Watson — with Aron Baynes getting just under seven minutes. Has he finally settled on something like a normal rotation, or are we in for a different look tonight?
In all, it just seems like Nurse doesn’t have much trust in his bench right now — and, really, he might not until this losing streak is over. But if Nurse does turn back to some of his bench guys like DeAndre’ Bembry, Patrick McCaw, or Terence Davis, they need to be ready to provide some energy and scoring. In this, Bembry has been fairly steady, but the production falls off a cliff pretty quickly after that.
Of course, it’s not sustainable for the starters to play close to 40 minutes every night, especially down the stretch with the Raptors battling for a playoff spot. If Nurse has found his ideal 8-man rotation, let’s hope they can keep up their production and take the pressure of the recently returned core of the team.