The Toronto Raptors are back from the holidays, and they’re looking to build on the momentum they gained heading into the break to string a few more wins before the end of the year.
Standing in their way, or should I say visiting Scotiabank Arena looking to snap the Raptors’ winning streak, are familiar faces — Raptors’ “old friends” Kawhi Leonard and Norman Powell.
This game marks Powell’s first return to Toronto as an active player since the trade — the Tampa Bay game doesn’t count. Perhaps, the Raptors organization and the fanbase can give Powell the tribute he deserves tonight.
Powell is returning from a groin injury, and it looks like he’s on a minutes restriction. Speaking of returning and tributes, if Kawhi plays tonight, it will be his first game back since this game:
Kawhi did not play against the Detroit Pistons last night; perhaps he’s learned a thing or two from us Canadians using up all of our “sick days” before the year ends.
Kawhi Leonard (right knee injury management) will not play tomorrow at Detroit, the first of a back-to-back. He should be available to play at Toronto on Tuesday.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) December 26, 2022
Enough about the visitors, and let’s talk about our guys.
In case you missed the presser yesterday amidst all the boxing day shopping, Pascal Siakam earned his first Eastern Conference Player of the Week this season. Siakam is the main reason why the Raptors have yet to enter the Wembanyama sweepstakes, and he’s a BIG reason why the Raptors are resurging these past two games. Just look at these filthy numbers:
NBA Players of the Week for Week 10.— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2022
West: Luka Doncic (@dallasmavs)
East: Pascal Siakam (@Raptors) pic.twitter.com/iZ0Yb2eBd7
This nod is Siakam’s fifth POTW tying Kyle Lowry for club honours, yet he is still behind Vince Carter (7), Chris Bosh (7) and DeMar DeRozan (10).
The Raptors need to bring their “A” game against this Clippers team, with or without Kawhi. They are a tough out, ranking near the top of the leaderboards in Opponent Points Per Game (3rd) and opponent FG% (45.3%).
The Clippers have the length and switch ability to match up with what the Raptors are trying to do, so whatever coach Nick Nurse stumbled upon against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he better bust it out again.
It’s silly to expect the Raptors to hit 19 trifectas this soon. Still, if Nurse can constantly run their offence through Siakam and utilize his gravity to give his teammates quality looks, that should put them in a good position to win the game. Of course, there are other variables, such as what kind of Scottie Barnes we will see tonight and if Fred VanVleet would continue to play off-ball.
Also, it looks like Precious Achiuwa is nearing his return, but don’t expect him for tonight’s game:
Precious Achiuwa was able to practice today. Sounds like he was mostly a full participant, taking contact, etc. He’s doubtful for tomorrow’s game vs the Clippers but Nurse says he’s getting closer to a return, which could come as early as this week.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 26, 2022
Hopefully, Kawhi plays tonight so we can see DPOY candidate O.G. Anunoby add him to his list of high-profile locked-up assignments.
Where to Watch:
SportsNET, NBA TV 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Juancho Hernangomez, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Los Angeles – Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac
Toronto – Precious Achiuwa (ankle - Doubtful), Otto Porter Jr. (toe - OUT)
Los Angeles –Brandon Boston Jr. (G League - On Assignment), Moussa Diabate (G League - On Assignment), Jason Preston (G League - On Assignment)
Juancho, 5th Beatle
Juancho Hernangomez hasn’t found a stable role throughout his young career, and it looks like the trend will continue in Toronto, with the way the season started. However, he’s been averaging 26 minutes per game since coach Nurse inserted him into the starting lineup. The numbers won’t blow anyone out of the water, given his 5 points per game and 33.3% shooting over this period.
What Hernangomez brings to the table is stability. Physically, he fits the profile of players that the Raptors want to put on the floor, but unlike Christian Koloko, he’s a much better defender. Hernangomez is a real switchable defender, capable of switching against guards. He is also a decent team defender; he doesn’t make many mistakes and can cover up for a teammate now and then.
Hernangomez’s most significant impact as a starter is on Scottie Barnes. Hernangomez, as the fifth Beatle, allows Scottie Barnes to occupy Koloko’s spot inside the arc, giving him more post-up and elbow touches rather than spotting up around the perimeter. On the defensive end, Barnes alternates flashes of brilliant and head-scratching defensive performance throughout the game.
With only one player to potentially cover-up, the Raptors’ defense has fewer holes than when they had to cover for both Koloko and Barnes. Now, if Hernangomez can knock down his perimeter shots more often....
Norman Powell and the Raptors’ Corner Three
Norman Powell’s return to Toronto evokes a lot of nostalgia. For most people, it’s from the thunderous dunks he did against Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Cleveland Cavaliers to name a few. However, Powell’s return is also a reminder of what the Raptors are missing this season.
Powell was the Raptors’ best corner three-point specialist. Since the “run-it-back” season, he’s averaged 43% (‘19-20) and 53.2% (‘20-21) before the Raptors shipped him to Portland. The Raptors haven’t had that kind of person this season, with the team shooting 34.5% compared to 39.7% last season.
I can’t even remember the last time the Raptors ran their Pistol Hammer play resulting in a corner three, which is a Powell specialty after Danny Green moved on. It also doesn’t help that Gary Trent Jr. is horrible in the corners, shooting only 30.8% from the corners this season. Trent Jr. was OK last season, going for 36.3% from the corners, but it’s clear he doesn’t like them that much, as almost 80% of his perimeter shots were above the break last season.
There’s one more person that could benefit the Pistol Hammer play, and he’s done it several times. The key is if he’s willing to keep himself off the ball to execute this.
Catch the Raptors play the Clippers tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet.