Opportunities to inch closer to the play-in round have presented themselves to the Toronto Raptors, perhaps none more prevalent than Saturday night. Both the Bulls and Wizards lost, giving the Raptors a chance to get within two games of the 10th seed.
But in consecutive games the Raptors have run out of steam in the fourth quarter. On Saturday, up four on the Utah Jazz entering the fourth, the Raptors offense went missing in the final 12 minutes leading to their third straight loss.
Now with eight games left on the schedule and still three games back of the 10th seed, the Raptors run into a Lakers team that has both Anthony Davis and LeBron James back.
The only other time the Raptors and Lakers met this season was less than a month ago. James and Davis were both out, and Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet sat for the Raptors while OG Anunoby only played nine minutes before exiting the game. Tonight, both teams should have most of their key players in the lineup.
Entering tonight the Lakers have lost five of their last six and hold an 8-14 record since March 20, but as mentioned above, they are getting healthy again. So, it doesn’t get any easier for the Raptors on the backend of a back-to-back.
In what has already been an exhausting season for the players themselves, Raptor fans get to embrace insomnia tonight with a second straight 10:00 p.m. tip-off.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 10 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Los Angeles – Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony David, Andre Drummond
Toronto – Chris Boucher (knee – OUT), Paul Watson (knee – OUT), Gary Trent Jr. (leg contusion – OUT)
Los Angeles – Jared Dudley (knee – OUT), Alex Caruso (back – game time decision), Dennis Schroder (calf – GTD), Kyle Kuzma (thumb – GTD), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ankle – GTD), Anthony Davis (calf – GTD), LeBron James (ankle – GTD), Marc Gasol (finger – GTD)
Final 12 woes
During this three-game losing streak, the Raptors are a combined -32 in the fourth quarter. Each time they had an opportunity to keep it close and possibly pull out a victory but simply got away from what worked for them offensively.
In the simplest sense, they stop making shots in the final 12 that they made during the first 36 minutes.
This is a hurdle to overcome if they want to find themselves in the play-in round. Otherwise, like Nick Nurse has done a few times late in games, he’s going to start giving more minutes to the younger guys for development. We saw it Thursday when in the fourth quarter Nurse started with a Flynn-plus-bench lineup.
But before closing out the mess of a year this season has been, the Raptors could use some confidence to show themselves they can close out close ball games.
OG Anunoby has taken new strides in his career over the last few games. Over the last six he is averaging 22.6 points on 51% shooting.
What has worked for him is he has been given the ball to create his own shots and he has been confident with it. If the Raptors are truly about development in this final eight game stretch, it might be time to see if Anunoby can become the primary guy late in games. Give him the ball, let him operate and see what he creates.
The next three
With eight games left and three games out of the 10th seed, this next three game stretch may determine the Raptors season.
They finish their four-game road trip with the Lakers tonight and Clippers on Tuesday, followed by a meeting with the Wizards – who currently hold the 10th seed — on Thursday. The Wizards themselves have two tough games before playing the Raptors — with Indiana on Monday and Milwaukee on the Wednesday before the Raptors on the backend of a back-to-back.
Momentum for the Raptors has to start with a win tonight for any hopes of playoff action.