The Toronto Raptors are back at it tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, and a win should help the current 7th seed in the East inch closer to the 5/6 spot, currently held by the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
One of the things worth keeping an eye on tonight is how the Raptors will defend Jonas Valanciunas throughout the game and how coach Nick Nurse would adjust if the Raptors’ front court get into early foul trouble. Nurse did indicate that the current starting lineup is not etched in stone, but it’s not like they have a traditional big to bang with JV.
Nurse leaves the door open to maybe changing up the starting lineup in the future, perhaps going bigger some nights depending on matchup, but said he likes this group (FVV-Trent-OG-Siakam-Barnes) and hopes they’ll prove to be their best defensive unit.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 2, 2022
Since we’re on the #JVHive, another thing to watch tonight is JV’s perimeter shooting. He started developing that aspect of his game under then-assistant coach Nurse’s guidance, and Valanciunas is converting at a 43% clip from the perimeter this season. I guess Karl-Anthony Towns may not be the greatest big-man shooter of all time.
Last year, the Raptors had a nightmare of a season, and the Pelicans swept the Raptors early. Pascal Siakam struggled not only to be a “the man,” but just by being an effective player in both games. Siakam seems to be a much different player this season (and in much better health and headspace), so it’s good to see how he fares against teams he struggled against last season.
Speaking of struggles, the Utah Jazz’ zone defense stymied the Raptors’ offense outside of Fred VanVleet. Hassan Whiteside’s presence at the heart of the Jazz’ zone defence posed many problems for the Raptors, who had a tough shooting night from the perimeter. Valanciunas might not be as good of a shot-blocker as Whiteside, and I don’t know how often the Pelicans go with zone defense, but I won’t be surprised if the Pelicans go zone-heavy tonight, so this is another thing to keep an eye on tonight.
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)