As the season winds down, and with Toronto’s play-in chances all but gone, the Raptors’ recent reunion tour continues tonight versus the Memphis Grizzlies.
Last Sunday the Raptors got to share hugs with Marc Gasol when they played the Lakers, and then some laughs with Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka, on Tuesday when they met the Clippers. If you really want to dig deep, they also reunited with Alex Len on Thursday when they played the Wizards.
Tonight’s matchup is with everyone’s friend: Jonas Valanciunas.
Memphis enters the game sitting in the Western Conference’s ninth seed, primed for a chance in the play-in tournament. There’s even a possibility they move up to the eighth seed if they can catch the Warriors.
The Grizzlies have battled some injuries this season but have still relatively been successful with a .500 record. Ja Morant missed some time early in the year but has played well since his return, and Jaren Jackson has been back, but the Grizzlies have been careful with him particularly in back-to-backs. As a team, they’ve been in and around the top-5 in most games missed due to injury — which is not a top-5 anyone wants to make.
For the Raptors, they lost a must-win game versus the Wizards the other night and basically seem to have thrown in the towel on the season. It’ll be interesting to see who they decide to rest in these final five games and which young guys get an opportunity with increased minutes. Case in point: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby are sitting tonight — so now what?
Here are tonight’s game details:
Where to Watch
TSN 4 & 5, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., Stanley Johnson, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch
Memphis – Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (rest – OUT), Fred VanVleet (hip – OUT), Chris Boucher (knee – OUT), Paul Watson Jr. (knee – OUT), OG Anunoby (calf – OUT), Yuta Watanabe (ankle – doubtful)
Memphis – Grayson Allen (abdominal – OUT), Sean McDermott (foot – OUT)
If there is someone who has silenced the critics over the last few games, it is Pascal. His 39 points, 13 rebounds double-double versus the Lakers was impressive but he has continued the success into the last two games — even dropping a new career-high of 44 points last Thursday. In the previous three, Siakam has averaged 34.7 points on 54.8 percent shooting, along with 10.3 rebounds and 2 steals.
While his scoring rate has been nice to see, it’s when Siakam shows off an efficient aggressiveness on offense that allows him to be successful. He has shown to be decisive with his decision-making and seeing how this recent trend continues in these final games will be a big key for the Raptors. With so many absences from the lineup, it’ll be interesting to see how Siakam rises to the occasion — and if he can bring his teammates along with him.
When these two teams met previously in February, good friend Jonas Valanciunas was not so much a friend on that night. He dropped a team-high 27 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. It was a monster game for Valanciunas versus his former team and you could tell he was playing with something to prove.
But he was also being defended by Aron Baynes.
This is a new and different Raptors centre core. Khem Birch will likely start on Memphis’ big man and Freddie Gillespie will get some time as well defensively. It’ll be on those two to keep Valanciunas away from the rim tonight and particularly off the boards. In the last game, it was in the first half that Valanciunas did his damage, with 18 points and 14 rebounds in the first 24. Contain him early and the Raptors will have a better shot down the stretch to take control and win the game.
Who Plays, Who Doesn’t
This has been a guessing game the last few weeks with the Raptors — with some legitimate injuries mixed in with some obvious days off. As has been noted elsewhere, the Raptors have been extremely cautious with OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet, both of whom are dealing with nagging injuries to their calf and hip. Could they play today? Maybe, but it does not seem to be a priority for the Raptors.
Meanwhile, Lowry is listed as out tonight so he can rest. He was dealing with a toe injury not so long ago, but it’s clear Toronto and Kyle have decided to just ease him into the off-season. What this means is that the Raptors’ usual backcourt will not be available and we’ll see big minutes from Malachi Flynn and Gary Trent Jr. Then we’ll see if the Raptors re-adjust after two days off before playing the Clippers again.