We’re 50 games into the Raptors’ season and it’s still unclear what exactly this team is — or rather, what they’re capable of. Last week’s 10-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (an organization whose strategy is to actively lose) had us slotting top-five draft prospects into the Raptors’ lineup for next year. Two games and a +55 point-differential later and it seems like a postseason berth is within reach.
The last couple games were a setback for the hardcore lottery enthusiasts, yet it’s hard not to simply view 2020-21 as a lost season. Still, watching a buzzer-beating, game-winning shot attempt by the Raptors actually go in was one of the most cathartic moments of a season that has been defined by deflating endings and tough breaks. (I already can’t wait for the first Gary Trent Jr. ovation in Toronto.) Vibes are pretty good!
So where do they go from here? The team has now won a couple games despite missing all but one point guard, as well as a number of role players — but their opponents in those two wins? The Curry- and Draymond-less Warriors, and the Beal-less Wizards. It’s fitting, then, that the Raptors put their two-game, uh, win streak on the line against a Lakers team missing their two best players — LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers have struggled of late without their two marquee players, losing six of their last nine games. Unfortunately, Kyle Lowry will be out once again due to a foot infection, and thus unable to show the Lakers what they wouldn’t trade Talen Horton-Tucker for, apparently. But with the Lakers missing both superstars, Toronto has a chance to continue clawing back into the East playoff race. And if they can’t get it done? Welp, I’m told 2021 is an exciting draft class.
Here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – DeAndre’ Bembry, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
Los Angeles – Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (foot – OUT), Rodney Hood (hip – OUT), Paul Watson (health and safety protocols – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT), Fred VanVleet (hip – OUT), Jalen Harris (hip – OUT)
Los Angeles – LeBron James (ankle – OUT), Anthony Davis (calf – OUT), Jared Dudley (knee – OUT), Andre Drummond (toe – questionable), Wesley Matthews (neck – questionable)
Tonight’s game tips off less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the Raptors’ 103-101 win versus the Wizards. Playing two days in a row is never easy, but this year’s Raptors are 1-9 on the second games of back-to-backs, an especially poor mark which is indicative of the heavy workload forced onto starters due to depth issues and a lack of centres who can rebound.
So how do things stand for tonight? Well, considering they could be limited to as few as nine players in both games, the Raptors are really depending on bench production to make life easier for the likes of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, who played 38 and 36 minutes last night. As it happened, Malachi Flynn (more on him soon) and Aron Baynes each played potentially their best games of the season against the Wizards, combining for 26 points and 14 rebounds. To beat the Lakers, Toronto will once again look to piece together that level of production from the bench.
The Flynnening is Happening!
Since earning consistent bench minutes over the last couple weeks, rookie Malachi Flynn has proven that he’s already capable of defending opposing point guards, though still fairly timid on offense. But with Lowry and VanVleet both out, Flynn has stepped up both ends by acting more decisively on offense, driving more aggressively to the rim, and finally knocking down his outside jumpers (and his percentage should only continue rising). He’s also seemingly been taking classes at the VanVleet School of Active Hands, evidenced by his four steals and three blocks in 33 minutes on Monday. Flynn, who finished as a +11 with 16 points, six boards, and four assists, was crucial to the Raptors’ latest victory.
VanVleet or no VanVleet, Flynn is carving out a nice role for himself in the Raptors’ rotation, and should see plenty of minutes against the Lakers, perhaps guarding the speedy Dennis Schroder. Flynn’s defensive activity is a major boost, both for getting stops and leading to transition points. But if he can maintain his confidence and continue attacking the paint — an easier task against the Wizards than even a shorthanded Lakers team — then things certainly look brighter for the Raptors.
Lakers in a Tough Spot
As previously noted, LA is 3-6 in their last nine, bringing them down to 31-19 for the season and just two and a half games ahead of a play-in spot (there really is no justice for Western Conference teams). So, because of injuries, the defending champs who did nothing but add to their roster face the possibility of being a seven seed. Would it be the worst thing in the world for them, provided LeBron and AD are back for the playoffs? No, but coach Frank Vogel’s team will do what they can to avoid the inconvenience of the play-in tournament.
The depleted Lakers, led by Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and the cluster of role players offered in a potential Lowry trade, have a brutal nine-game slate the next couple weeks which includes the Heat, Nets, Jazz (x2), and Mavericks (x2). Perhaps the Lakers view tonight’s game as a must-win, one in which they can take advantage of a weaker opponent. On the other hand, there’s some trap game potential as the Lakers look ahead to Thursday’s Finals rematch against the Heat. Which of those theories is correct will probably be decided by the Raptors’ energy — and their ability to sustain it.