I’m sure the Toronto Raptors would have enjoyed a longer break than 48 hours to recover from one of the longest games in franchise history versus the Miami Heat. However, they’re back in action facing the Atlanta Hawks on the final stint of their three-game road trip. Currently, In the eastern conference standings, Atlanta and Toronto are separated by 1 game, with Toronto in possession of the 8th seed at 24-23 and Atlanta in possession of the 10th seed at 24-25. Last season, the Raptors were swept in the season series versus the Atlanta Hawks by an average margin of victory of 9.6 points.
The Hawks aren’t exactly invincible at Phillips Arena, currently 14-11 at home, while the Raptors aren’t exactly road warriors either as they are 11-11 on the road. Atlanta is also coming off a back-to-back with a win last night versus the Los Angeles Lakers; in games where they have no rest, they are 3-4. So the question is can the Raptors prevent a similar outcome of last season while snapping the Hawks’ seven-game winning streak?
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
Atlanta — Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
Toronto — Khem Birch (nose – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
Atlanta — N/A
Bench woes continue
If it wasn’t clear before, it is clear now after Saturday’s triple-overtime contest against the Miami Heat. The Raptors’ starting lineup can hang with any team in the league, but the bench is downright putrid. The Raptors bench ranks dead last in points per game, assists per game, and three-pointers made per game. This team can’t rely on the starters to do everything necessary to win consistently.
In Saturday’s game versus the Miami Heat, the Raptors starters all played over 50 minutes and combined to shoot 102 of the team’s 107 total field goals. That is unsustainable. Depth is needed to succeed the NBA as we have seen time and time again and the Raptors are severely lacking in that department. The trade deadline of February 10th is approaching, and the Raptors need to be buyers.
The Raptors are no strangers to deadline deals. For instance, the acquisition of Serge Ibaka, the championship-winning decision to acquire Marc Gasol, and most recently acquiring Gary Trent Jr last season, should leave Fans reassured that the front office will find a way to alleviate the bench woes. To bring perspective into Monday’s game versus the Hawks, Atlanta has a plethora of bench options such as Onyeka Okongwu, Delon Wright, and Bodgan Bogdanovic which could easily sway the outcome of this game.
The Toronto Raptors deserve two All-Stars
Recently the starters for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game were announced, and the Raptors did not have a player selected. Fred VanVleet, who has done a terrific job as a leader for this team as they transition into a post-Kyle Lowry era, was close to being selected, finishing with 818,492 fan votes, which was good for 7th among Eastern Conference guards. VanVleet has taken his game to another level this season, increasing his PPG, APG, and RPG while playing a league-leading 38.6 minutes per game.
It should be seen as a lock that Fred will be making the trip to Cleveland, joining the All-star game as a reserve. But you know what would be better than having one Raptors player represent Toronto in the All-Star game!? You guessed it, the Raptors having two players selected for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game.
This season, Pascal Siakam has easily been one of the best forwards in the east. Each season Siakam impresses us by adding something new to his game. Siakam is averaging a career-high in assists (5.2) and in January, he has taken his playmaking duties to another level with three games of 10 or more assists. Since the 2015-2016 season, the Raptors have sent two players to the All-Star game five times, and with the elite play of Fred and Siakam this season it should not be a surprise if this makes six.
Are the Raptors and Hawks future rivals?
The Raptors and Hawks could be seen as teams with similar outlooks in the Eastern Conference. Both have young, exciting cores with All-Star talent at the guard and forward spots. Both are currently in the bottom half of the playoff picture and with three games coming up throughout the 2nd half of the season, these teams will become very familiar with each other.
While Atlanta had Toronto’s number last season sweeping the season series, It’s been evident that the Hawks have taken a step back when it comes to team success. Last season, after a coaching change from Lloyd Pierce to Nate Mcmillan, they finished the season with a 27-11 record and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. They now find themselves treading water playing .500 basketball.
With the NBA’s Play-in Tournament for the 7th through 10th seeds, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Toronto and Atlanta could be headed to meet in a high-stakes game in April and even possibly a playoff series in the near future.