The pseudo-Naismith Cup tonight should be exciting, as the Toronto Raptors/Memphis Grizzlies games have always been action-packed. Both teams are trying to get out of a funk, with the Raptors trying not to sink back to the lows they had during the six-game losing streak. Despite the two wins in the past three games, the Raptors are not out of the woods yet, as the Chicago Bulls pulled an upset over the Milwaukee Bucks last night, bumping the Raptors out of the last play-in spot in the process.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies are losers of four of their last five games. They’ve been in a funk for the past five games, and despite what Ja Morant said that he’s “fine in the west,” I’m pretty sure that the Grizzlies are excited to head out East.
December 23: Ja Morant doubles down on his “I’m fine in the west” statement when a reporter asks, "What about the Suns?"— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) December 28, 2022
December 27: Grizzlies lose to the Suns by 17 points without Devin Booker.
Memphis have lost four of their last five games against Western Conference teams. pic.twitter.com/vNAR8bBT4H
Despite the loss against the Los Angeles Clippers the other day, Pascal Siakam’s star continued to shine bright — leading all scorers with 36 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, despite a slow start. This seems to be the “new normal” for him, as he’s averaging 35.8 points, nine rebounds, and 6.4 assists while shooting 51.7% from the field over the last five games.
Just when the Raptors’ injury report was starting to clear up, Fred VanVleet left the Clippers game four minutes into the third period with back tightness. He’s now listed as questionable, and the way he looked in that game, it may be best to let his body recover, especially if he didn’t practice yesterday.
Dalano Banton got sent down to the G League for the Raptors 905’s regular season premiere on the road, so he’ll be missing tonight’s game. Christian Koloko and Precious Achiuwa are both listed as questionable, but it’s unlikely we’ll see Achiuwa tonight. Too bad, as he had one of his better games against the Grizzlies last season. Koloko, on the other hand, is bothered by knee soreness and was scheduled to get an MRI done yesterday.
Gary Trent Jr. is starting to look comfortable as the team’s scorer off the bench. He’s now averaging more points per game (17.3 vs 16.4) and shooting more efficiently (49.6% vs 40.7% FG%, 40.7% vs 31.1% 3P% ) coming off the bench. Trent Jr. dropped 20 points off the bench against the Clippers, giving the Raptors the scoring punch off the bench, one of the team’s several holes this season.
Gary Trent Jr.'s 3pt shooting splits (Starter vs Bench) this season pic.twitter.com/4INJGYFN46— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) December 29, 2022
In a battle between two teams struggling from the perimeter, tonight’s game could be decided on which team takes advantage of the other’s poor perimeter defense.
Where to Watch:
SportsNET 7:30pm EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Juancho Hernangomez, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Memphis – Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
Toronto – Precious Achiuwa (ankle - Questionable), Otto Porter Jr. (toe - OUT), Christian Koloko (knee - Questionable), Fred VanVleet (back - Questionable), Dalano Banton (G League - On Assignment), Ron Harper Jr. (G League - On Assignment)
Memphis – Danny Green (knee - OUT), Jake LaRavia (G League - On Assignment), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (G League - On Assignment), David Roddy (G League - On Assignment), Vince Williams Jr. (G League - On Assignment)
After not facing any Canadians over the last two games, the Can-Con is back with the Grizzlies in town. It feels like every Canadian is auditioning in front of team Canada’s head coach, Nick Nurse. Mississauga’s own Dillon Brooks and Vancouver-born Brandon Clarke averaged 18.5 points and 11 points against the Raptors last season. Expect them to play with extra sauce tonight.
Siakam could be better
Seriously, the Raptors’ front office needs to get this man some help. With the number and quality of open shots Siakam generates for his teammates, he should be a constant triple-double threat every night.
On the defensive end, he’s constantly going through multiple defenders. Despite the lack of spacing, he’s managed to up his production even more. Siakam is one of five players in the NBA to average 25+ points, 8+ rebounds, and 5+ assists this season. The other four? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic.
The Grizzlies’ recent struggles mirror what the Raptors have been going through the entire season. The key issues can be narrowed down to their three-point shooting and perimeter defence. That sounds familiar to the Raptors’ fanbase.
They are shooting under 30% from the perimeter over the last five games, and their best outside shooter, Desmond Bane is 2-for-19 from deep since returning from his injury. The Raptors know a thing or two about their best perimeter shooter struggling from behind the arc.
What’s worse, the Grizzlies are 5-10 when they shoot under 34% from behind the arc. The Raptors are 4-14, given the same scenario. The Grizzlies allowed their opponents to shoot 40.1% from the perimeter during their last five games. The Raptors are pretty close, surrendering 39.3%. Both numbers rank in the bottom 10 over that same period.
So I guess tonight’s game would come down to who gets hot from the perimeter.
Watch the Raptors face the Memphis Grizzlies tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Sportsnet.