Even if you didn’t spend yesterday obsessively refreshing Woj’s Twitter and practicing pursed lip breathing, chances are you at least felt some form of dread as we approached the 3:00 PM EST trade deadline. Even for those who fancy themselves calculating, business-first fans with no regard for sentimentality, the thought of greatest-Raptor-ever Kyle Lowry being traded was still emotionally investing — for those of us whose eyes were glued to their Twitter feeds, it was perhaps emotionally exhausting.
But, as it turned out, Kyle Lowry’s extremely Kyle Lowry-esque performance against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday (8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, 5 boards, 9 assists, career-high plus-42 rating, win) was not his farewell.
Of course, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster did make some trades, which Daniel Reynolds has written about in greater detail. They made a couple of minor moves, with Matt Thomas and Terrence Davis both being shipped out for second-rounders (which certainly did not help those suffering from a fear of the Raptors without Lowry). But the truly affecting move was the trade of Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. The arrival of Trent Jr. and Hood, who are already in Tampa and may very well suit up for tonight’s game, is certainly exciting, especially with the 22-year-old Trent Jr. likely factoring into the team’s future plans. It was also necessary, given Norm’s impending payday and the Raptors’ own cap situation. The move makes sense, no doubt about it — but it sucks that it had to happen.
The Raptors have been hard to pin down this season, as we all know. First they’re 2-8, then they embrace a small-ball lineup and take down the likes of Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Philly during a 15-9 stretch, before being decimated by health and safety protocols and losing nine straight (and then subsequently blowing out the 26-18 Nuggets). The Raptors now have to show the league which version they truly are — but they’ll have to do it without Powell, who averaged 26 points per game in March.
Tonight the Raptors face the Phoenix Suns, who are currently second in the Western Conference at 29-14 and feature two All-Stars in Chris Paul and Devin Booker. A lot has changed since the two teams faced each other in January (Alex Len played 12 minutes, for example), when the Suns won 123-115 in a competitive game that dropped the Raptors to 1-6. But there are also a number of similarities, including the fact that at the time of each game, the Raptors had dug themselves into a hole and were determined to find their own identity in order to escape it. Let’s see what result the rematch brings.
Here are tonight’s details.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 PM ET
Phoenix – Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, DeAndre’ Bembry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
Phoenix – Abdel Nader (out – knee), Mikal Bridges (questionable – heel)
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (out – knee), Gary Trent Jr. (questionable – not injury related), Rodney Hood (questionable – not injury related)
We’ll Miss You, Norm
Norm’s presence will be missed, especially on offense. Watching him develop into the electrifying scorer he’s become this year, with his confident at-rim finishes and automatic shooting from the corners, has been a pleasure. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of the core five of Lowry, VanVleet, Powell, Siakam, and Anunoby playing together. But with the lack of a quality centre, it’s become painfully clear that this team thrives by starting small — and Norm’s role in that was huge.
Without Powell on the roster, OG Anunoby may be looking at an increased role in the offense. He’s shown flashes in the post and on drives, and those possessions may become a more regular occurrence. Trent Jr. doesn’t quite have Norm’s driving and finishing ability, but if he is able to suit up tonight, his three-point shooting (he’s at just under 40 percent this season) will make him a highly effective floor-spacer on the weak side.
The P is Spicy
It’s been an up and down season for him, but after a lengthy absence due to health and safety protocols and a heated exchange with Nick Nurse, Pascal Siakam appears locked in. In his last two games, Siakam’s scored 48 points on 50/40/83 shooting splits, along with 18 rebounds and 9 assists. Perhaps the most key part of this is that Siakam is less hesitant to take the three. He’s taken about six 3s per game in the last four contests — if that holds up teams will have to respect his jumper, which can do a lot for his ability to blow by defenders. Factor in that Phoenix is one of Siakam’s favourite opponents (he dropped 32 and 9 rebounds on them in January), and you’ve got a recipe for what might be a spicy performance.
One of the main issues plaguing the 2020-21 Raptors is their lack of reliable play off the bench. DeAndre’ Bembry will have games where he looks masterful in transition while making beautiful passes, but has also had some real duds and been unplayable at times. Stanley Johnson will hit clutch threes and win the final possession with superb on-ball defense one game, then follow it up with a performance where he looks, well, unplayable. Yuta Watanabe... okay, you get the point.
Bench production is key for the regular season, especially against the really good teams like Phoenix who have deep rotations of their own, featuring guys like Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, and Dario Saric. Even if Chris Boucher steps up, as he has done many times this season, Toronto will need at least one other player to make meaningful contributions on the offensive end, whether that be Paul Watson Jr. or Malachi Flynn (or maybe Rodney Hood if he’s active).