After a 112-96 victory against Cleveland last night, Toronto is now just one game behind the 10th-place Washington Wizards — with 11 games left in the season.
After a brutal March in which they won just one game, followed by several games in mid-April in which four of Toronto’s starters were out either with injury or rest, the direction of the team was trending downwards. Despite sitting Kyle Lowry and a slew of other starters for multiple games — whether to recover from the hectic schedule or to increase draft odds — the Raptors still managed to stay afloat. Chicago’s poor form didn’t punish Toronto’s losses and now the Raptors are still in the hunt for the last play-in position. If they want to go for it, that is.
Their recent play and rotation certainly favour a push. The last three games saw the core four of Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby play major minutes. Against the Knicks, Siakam played 41 minutes, VanVleet played 40 minutes, and Anunoby was not far behind with 39. Their game almost a week ago against these same Nets saw all four play over 35 minutes.
Tonight, it’s the back end of a back-to-back. Toronto’s struggles in these games have been noted — they’ve won just two games out of a possible 13. Brooklyn has a number of players sitting due to injury, however, most notably James Harden. Kevin Durant, who was forced out of the first meeting with Toronto due to health and safety protocols and missed the second through injury, will finally suit up for a full game.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Brooklyn – Kyrie Irving, Landry Shamet, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan
Toronto – Chris Boucher (knee – OUT), Gary Trent Jr. (leg contusion – OUT), Paul Watson (knee – OUT), Jalen Harris (hip – OUT)
Brooklyn – James Harden (hamstring – OUT), Bruce Brown (knee – OUT), Nicolas Claxton (COVID-19 protocols – OUT), Chris Chiozza (hand – OUT), Alize Johnson (COVID-19 protocols – OUT), Spencer Dinwiddie (knee – OUT)
Yuta Watanabe has seen his longest run of appearances this season. In the 15 games since March 29, Watanabe has played 17 minutes per game while appearing in all 15 games. Rewarded with a standard NBA contract just over a week ago, Watanabe’s play has slowly come along to the point where he’s now a steady presence in the Raptors’ rotation. It’s been quite the journey for Watanabe, who started his run with Toronto by playing his way into the final roster spot at the beginning of the season.
While his numbers don’t jump off the page, Watanabe has shown enough this season to earn that contract. His game last night against Cleveland was a great example, moving his feet on one end and nailing his open shots on the other. It’s been a difficult season for Toronto but the development of Watanabe has been fun to watch — and has quickly pushed him into fan favourite status. Now let’s see how he withstands the Brooklyn attack tonight.
By all measures, Brooklyn’s season is a success. They sit atop the conference with a record of 41-20, a game ahead of Philadelphia. Kevin Durant, who missed the whole previous season due to an Achilles injury, returned and didn’t miss a step. They made an early-season trade to bring in another All-Star in James Harden, who changed his game from an iso-heavy style to a facilitator to better mesh with his teammates. Then there is Kyrie Irving, who is having one of the best seasons in his career.
The one problem, however, is how little court time they have shared. Just 186 minutes across seven games, in which they are 5-2. Harden has missed the last nine games with a hamstring injury, while Durant dealt with his own hamstring injury that took him out for multiple weeks. On paper, their games should mesh well. Irving and Durant have shown they can play off-ball and Harden is a willing passer. All of them can create their own shots. But can they work through their adjustment period in a playoff scenario? That has yet to be seen.
Down the Stretch
With only 11 games remaining for the Raptors, every single contest holds much more weight. The team’s upcoming West coast road trip could make or break Toronto’s season and their chance to compete in the play-in tournament. After tonight, their next four games are either in historically difficult places to play (Denver and Utah) or championship contenders looking to ramp up (Lakers and Clippers). The challenges don’t end there.
When the Raptors return to Tampa, they play teams looking to avoid the play-in positions (Dallas and Memphis) or teams fighting just to make it in (Chicago, Washington, and Indiana). Only one game, a May 11 home game against the Clippers, could you reasonably expect to see an opponent resting their players before the postseason. With such a small margin between Washington, Chicago, and Toronto, it may come down to the last game of the season.