Maybe it’s just me, but it is becoming very challenging to write these game previews. Less because the Raptors are losing games — despite last night’s victory — and more because it’s unclear who on the roster will or won’t be playing for various reasons.
Twenty-four hours before tipping off against Cleveland last night — a game the Raptors won 135-115 — Kyle Lowry was questionable, then downgraded to doubtful and ultimately did not play because of his lingering foot injury. Fred VanVleet (hip) and Pascal Siakam (rest) were also out last night, along with some of Toronto’s other bench players.
Dating back to February 26, the Raptors have played without at least one of Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam and OG Anunoby in 15 of 20 games. The four have missed a combined 30 games in that span, and this is excluding the bench guys who have also missed time on a roster for which depth has already been a concern. (We could also mention the two players the Raptors traded at the deadline for future picks and the recent waiving of Pat McCaw here too.)
Tonight versus the Knicks, presumably Siakam will return after receiving last night off for the front-end of a back-to-back. It’s unclear if Lowry is ready to go and VanVleet still seems to need more time. There’s also the question of whether or not Anunoby may now take a breather tonight — he and Siakam have been doing a lot lately to keep the Raptors afloat. For now, OG is active and in the lineup.
The Knicks, on the other hand, are a healthy group outside a Mitchell Robinson injury. While a game under .500 at 26-27, they’re holding tight to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. In this, Julius Randle continues to have himself a career-season, coming off a triple-double versus Memphis on Friday. Canadian RJ Barrett has been shooting lights out in the last three games at 60 percent from the field — which is something compared to his season average of 45 percent.
As a team, however, the Knicks have lost five of their last seven. Maybe with some reinforcements the Raptors can take advantage and get themselves another win.
Here are the game details, with some guesses:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8 PM EST
Toronto – Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
New York – Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (foot – questionable), Fred VanVleet (hip – out), Jalen Harris (hip – doubtful), Paul Watson (COVID-19 protocols – doubtful)
New York – Mitchell Robinson (foot – OUT), John Henson (calf – OUT)
This was the same first key to the game listed in the game preview written ahead of yesterday’s Raptors-Cavaliers game, and it’s important to emphasize again. Siakam will play tonight and the hope is Lowry will too. To add to that, some great news: the Raptors have officially signed big man Khem Birch and he should be eligible to play tonight.
The health of the team is improving as the schedule dwindles down and that is a positive to hold onto in a season that has been filled with very dim hope. Getting everyone back and healthy will be important as the Raptors play their fifth game in what is a span of seven games in 10 days.
Both the Raptors and Knicks rank in the top five in opponents points in the paint, e.g. both team defend the paint well, with the Raptors in second and the Knicks fourth. On top of that, New York also averages the third lowest points per game overall — despite basing a decent percentage of their offense in the lane. In short, this won’t be a game with a whole lot of interior scoring.
It can be expected that this will be a low scoring matchup between two teams that are solid defensively. Yes, thanks to coach Tom Thibodeau, it appears the Knicks are now something of a defensive-minded team. The last time these two teams played, it looked fairly evenly matched except for in one area: the Knicks couldn’t hit a three, and the Raptors were solid from outside. Since then, New York has improved their percentage — but they’re still bottom five in terms of outside attempts. Whichever way the inside-outside battle breaks could decide the game for both teams.
The one good thing coming out of this season for the Raptors is the experience and exposure a few of the young guys are getting. This starts with Gary Trent Jr., who the Raptors acquired at the trade deadline. With more opportunity to be a ballhandler and scorer, Trent has been tremendous during this tough stretch for Toronto. The guard scored a career-high 44 last night after only scoring six points the night before, and is averaging 22 points in the last six games.
Chris Boucher has also had an impressive season. While only scoring nine points and grabbing two rebounds last night, the game before versus Chicago, Boucher was the guy with 38 points and 19 rebounds. Boucher’s explosions of ability — where he scores, rebounds, and defends at the rim — continue to be bright spots despite some bumpy games for the Raptors as a team.
Lastly, Malachi Flynn got his first career double-double last night with 20 points and 11 rebounds versus the Cavs. Through the last five, Flynn is averaging 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.4 steals. I’m not sure you can ask for much more from a rookie point guard that has played all season behind Lowry and VanVleet.
With these three showing glimpses of what they can produce along with the Raptors’ locked-in core of VanVleet, Siakam, and Anunoby, we can at least have a positive outlook for the future.