The Toronto Raptors, winners of eight of their last nine games (not as good as nine wins in a row, but still pretty solid!) travel to Louisiana to take on the re-made New Orleans Pelicans tonight.
I’m still bummed about that loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night, I have to say. It was such a winnable game! Credit goes to Denver and MVP Nikola Jokic of course. But man. “Pretty solid” or not, I would much rather be writing “winners of nine straight” this morning.
With the NBA of course, the next potential win streak is always around the corner. Let’s see if the Raptors can get one going tonight!
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8:00PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
New Orleans — CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Devonte’ Graham
Toronto — N/A
New Orleans — Zion Williamson (foot – out), Kira Lewis (knee – out), Larry Nance Jr. (knee – out)
New look, same outlook
The Pelicans made a major roster move before the trade deadline, trading three rotation players — Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, along with Didi Louzada and a first-round pick — to the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.
To me, the move seems like the proverbial shuffling of deck chairs; McCollum is a gifted scorer of course, and a big name, but is he that much better than Hart, who is a stronger defender? And is he a big enough name to make Zion Williamson think twice about sticking around New Olreans? I’m also not a big fan of giving up NAW and a pick, too.
Early results are not exactly promising, either. The Pelicans are 0-2 with McCollum in the lineup, and Nance is hurt and Snell was a DNP-CD in both. McCollum had monster game against the San Antonio Spurs, dropping 36 points on 15-24 shooting and notching 11 rebounds and five assists. But the Pels gave up 124 points and lost by 10.
All of which is to say — the Zion-less Pelicans were not that great before the trade, and they’re not that great now.
(If Pelicans coach Willie Green is any good at his job, he’ll end Snell’s DNP-CD streak tonight — that guy has dealt some killer blows to the Raptors over the years.)
Double up down low
Nikola Jokic certainly showed the Raptors the downside of their centre-less lineup, and tonight the Raptors face another guy who can do the same, Jonas Valanciunas. JV had 20 points and 17 boards the last time these two teams met, and he’s averaging 18 and 12 on the season, along with 53% shooting from the floor.
Doubling down on Jonas is risky, of course; he’s a much-improved passer, and the Pels have three very willing three-point shooters in McCollum (39% on 8 attempts per game), Devonte’ Graham (34% on 8 attempts) and Brandon Ingram (34% on 4.5 attempts). If the Raptors don’t collapse and recover effectively, those three will have a field day.
The good news is the Raptors are indeed much improved in that area. Opponents shot 36% from downtown against the Raptors through the first 46 games of the season, but in the last nine, that number’s gone down to 33%.
It’s a trap!
With only two games left before the All-Star break, it would be easy for the Raptors to start looking ahead, especially with those two games coming against a couple of typically moribund franchises, the Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves. And who could blame them? With Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby ranked 1-2-3 in the league in minutes per game, you couldn’t blame them for looking forward to the rest.
But overlooking any NBA team usually results in disaster, even these two.
As noted, the Pelicans have the personnel to take advantage of the Raptors’ schemes, if the Raptors aren’t sharp. And the T-Wolves? These aren’t the T-Wolves of old! They’re 30-27 and chasing the Nuggets for that last non-play-in playoff spot.
Perhaps some new blood — will we get to see Thad Young on the floor tonight? — will keep the Raptors sharp!