The Raptors are on a roll as they look to extend their winning streak to five against the New York Knicks. There’s just one problem — the Knicks are on an absolute tear and in the midst of a league-best eight-game winning streak.
It was just about two weeks ago when these teams last met, with the Knicks eking out a 102-96 win infamously sealed by Pascal Siakam’s late-game blunder. It wasn’t an A+ performance by the Knicks — even Julius Randle’s 26 points and eight rebounds output looked ho-hum compared to the tear he’s on right now — but it was enough for the W. At the time, however, the Raptors were missing Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, and based on the team’s first-half performance, their compete-level as well.
Toronto heads into this game with a new look — Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are back to their natural position, and they are not as hard-pressed to protect the paint with Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie manning the middle. The team’s rotation is also rounding into form, with the core players coming back from suspension and injury (though the team will be without Chris Boucher this afternoon).
We saw a glimpse of the full Raptors against the short-handed Brooklyn Nets the other night. If that level of play is on the way back, then the Raptors are a must-watch again. Below are the game details to do just that.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet and ESPN at 1pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
New York — Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Nerlens Noel
Toronto — Rodney Hood (Knee — questionable), Chris Boucher (knee — out), Paul Watson (knee — out), Jalen Harris (hip — out)
New York — Alec Burks (health & safety — out), Mitchell Robinson (foot — out)
One Foot in Either Direction
The Raptors are on a tight three-way race to make the play-in tournament despite looking like they were about to give up. If you recall, their 9-3 run back in February put them in the middle of the East’s playoff picture until COVID ravaged the roster — and their 1-13 March looked to completely undo them. But even after resting Lowry, Siakam, and Anunoby (with VanVleet missing games due to perhaps a more legitimate injury), the Raptors have started winning again.
Now, with just thirteen games left and an increasingly harder schedule, the Raptors are in a perfect situation to play both sides. Toronto can make the play-in (best-case scenario) or finish with as low as the 7th-best lottery odds (worst-case scenario). Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards are surging, the Chicago Bulls are in the mix, and, sure, the Indiana Pacers could falter and make this a four-way race for the play-in spots. I suggest you give a listen to That’s A Rap as they explore the Raptors’ winning DNA and potential play-in matchups.
Toronto’s game against the Nets gave us a taste of what could have been if the Raptors had had a decent centre to start the season. In fact, now with so many games under their collective belts, and with all that roster volatility, it looks like the rest of the Raptors’ rotation has found themselves too. Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie have settled into the frontcourt rotation, while Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn are growing into their new roles off the bench. Our buddy Jackson Rakoczy looked into what this budding rotation on his 3 Lessons.
Yes, in particular, Trent Jr. started 12 straight games since his trade to the Raptors, but the emergence of Birch has shifted him back to the bench. The starters + Birch lineup has looked solid so far, so now the coaching staff is trying to get Trent Jr. his shots without becoming a black hole every time he touches the ball. To a certain extent, all of this bumps Paul Watson Jr., Yuta Watanabe, and DeAndre’ Bembry down the pecking order — which still means a bit more trial-and-error for Nurse on what his bench should look like. It’ll also be interesting to see what changes now that Chris Boucher will miss some time due to a knee injury.
Siakam Rounding into Form
Pascal Siakam has had a tumultuous season so far, and it’s felt at times like he’s having a massive down year in his career. Still, his year-to-year numbers are comparably, and his numbers in April have looked pretty good.
Pascal Siakam in April (8 games):— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 22, 2021
49.4 FG% pic.twitter.com/CSzrmatZ5t
The Raptors fanbase was hoping for a revenge tour that never happened. Perhaps it was ridiculous for the organization to ask Siakam to be “the man” while playing several roles throughout a given game on both ends of the floor and logging heavy minutes under tough circumstances. It was a short turnaround between the end of Siakam’s miserable series against the Boston Celtics and the start of this season, and COVID hit him hard when it looked like he was finally getting his groove back. It looks like the combination of rest and new recruits is doing wonders for Siakam. Now we’ll just have to see if he can keep it up to the end of the season (and beyond).