The Toronto Raptors’ new year’s resolution has to be “remain undefeated” as they are one of five teams left in the NBA yet to lose a game in this new calendar year. Behind the Raptors’ winning streak is the small sample size of this team at full strength, and we’re barely scratching the surface.
Fred VanVleet continues his All-Star level performance. The Raptors’ PR team should be reaching out to the voting members of the media and every coach in the association with a video package his personal 15-0 run against the Utah Jazz to remind them that this guy is playing at an All-NBA level.
The Raptors may have played down to their competition against the Jazz last Friday, but a five-game winning streak and a +68 during that period are hard to dismiss. The Raptors’ size and length allowed them to dominate the offensive rebounding department 74-43 but will put that strength to the test against our old friend, Jonas Valanciunas.
The New Orleans Pelicans are near the bottom of the standings in the weaker conference, but they remain 1.5 games behind the last play-in spot. Even without Zion Williamson, they are motivated to have something to show as they are in the fourth year of their rebuild. They recently took down the NBA’s #1 team Golden State Warriors and are 6-4 over their last four games.
Brandon Ingram is the key to this Pelicans offense, even as his numbers are slightly down across the board. However, the Pelicans are 1-8 on games he did not play this season. Along with Ingram, Valanciunas pose a big problem for the Raptors, who do not have the size at that pivot position. The last time we saw Valanciunas was against the Memphis Grizzlies, and he walked into 18 points, 21 rebounds, and five blocks.
Tonight should be an interesting game, as this is the first game we’ll see the Raptors’ small/long-ball starting lineup go up against an imposing big. Tonight also marks Valanciunas’ first game back in Toronto, so let’s all welcome our old friend back by watching below:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 6PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
New Orleans — Devonte’ Graham, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Garrett Temple
Toronto — Yuta Watanabe (Health and Safety Protocols – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
New Orleans — Josh Hart (Not With Team – out), Kira Lewis Jr (Knee – out), Tomas Satoransky (Health & Safety Protocols – out), Zion Willianson (foot – out), Didi Louzada (League Suspension – out)
Home Court (Border) Advantage
Despite the empty arenas, are the Raptors having a home-court advantage? Scratch that — could it be that the border is playing to the team’s advantage? With Josh Hart not travelling with the team tonight, we have seen several high-profile to impact players electing not to travel to Toronto for whatever excuse only to see them play the next game.
We love Scottie Barnes here in Toronto, and he’s been phenomenal and unexpectedly ahead of schedule. In the second round, the Raptors selected Dalano Banton and David Johnson. We’ve seen the allure of Banton’s potential, and Johnson remains a project. Last summer, I profiled several potential second-round picks, including one of my favourite second-round picks in Herb Jones. Sadly, Jones was too good, and the Pelicans snapped him with the 35th pick. He is turning into a home run pick for the Pelicans and would have been an ideal agent of chaos for the Raptors’ bench.
Herb Jones has 18 steals and 23 blocks in his last 15 games. Some of the highlights. pic.twitter.com/R9sNpZHqqm— Christian Clark (@cclark_13) January 4, 2022
This summer, we saw the Raptors front office prioritize length and positional versatility, beginning with Scottie Barnes’ draft selection. The Raptors had a couple of picks in the second round and could have selected a centre (*cough*Sandro Mamukelashvili*cough*), but they chose not to. It followed it with a free agency, not even looking at the direction of free agent bigs (*cough*Richaun Holmes*cough*).
Pascal Siakam’s injury prevented the team from having a real training camp with their core players, and injuries and the pandemic pushed that even further this season. However, the Raptors are now healthy. We are starting to see the front office’s vision: a starting (and likely closing) lineup of Fred-VanVleet-Gary Trent Jr-OG Anunoby-Pascal Siakam-Scottie Barnes. It looks good so far, and the small/long ball bleeds into hybrid transition lineups, which saw coach Nick Nurse abandon the traditional backup point guard concept.
After a couple of months, Nurse finally has the team that he wants to go out there and play, and the early returns looked promising. The scary part — This new look is probably just scratching the surface.