Who’s the wise guy in the NBA scheduling department who scheduled an 8:30 tip-off for the Toronto Raptors last night, in Philadelphia, on the East coast, and then put them on a back-to-back that sees them playing the Chicago Bulls the next day? It’s definitely one of the weirdest schedule quirks I’ve seen.
I’m not feeling great about it — having stayed up to write last night’s recap and then having to get up and write this preview — so I can only imagine how the players must feel about it.
Alas, the show must go on, and tonight’s matchup is a big one in terms of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Bulls, who are just 2-8 in their last 10, sit just 1.5 games ahead of the Raptors in the standings (with Cleveland Cavaliers in between them). With the Cavs playing the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James tonight, a Bulls loss would flip the two Central division teams and put the Bulls right within the Raptors’ crosshairs.
Can the Raptors make it happen? Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 8:00 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Pascal SIakam
Chicago — Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu
Toronto — Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out), OG Anunoby (finger – out)
Chicago — Lonzo Ball (knee)
Toronto’s style of play — scrambling defense, crashing the glass, forcing turnovers opportunistic running — means they’re rarely out of a game. Of course, their, ah, lack of scoring punch can also mean they don’t win a lot of games easily.
Such was the case the past two games, as their contest against the Lakers went to OT and only Chris Boucher’s chin prevented their game against Philly from doing the same.
It’s also been the case in the three games against the Bulls, one of which went to OT, and the other two had margins of victory of just 6 and 3 points.
Earlier in the season, the string of heart stoppers was kind of funny, and mildly stressful. Now, as the season winds down, and a playoff spot is on the line it’s not funny anymore. It’s outright ulcer-inducing. Couldn’t we have a few more laughers like last Monday’s victory in Los Angeles?
Keep it clean
The last time these two teams played — a 127-120 OT win for Toronto — DeMar DeRozan went to the free throw line 14 times (and made all 14). Overall DeMar is 40-41 from the line vs. the Raptors this season, as he’s gotten pretty much every Raptor on the roster to fall for his pump fakes and shoulder fakes.
As fans, we’re more than used to this; DeMar is a free throw machine. And he’s not a foul-baiter like James Harden or Trae Young — his fouls are legit, a benefit of the footwork and upper body strength he’s developed over his career. Keeping him off the line will go a long way to helping the Raptors win this one; the Raptors are in the bottom half of the league in terms of fouls committed, so hopefully Nick Nurse and co. are texting “don’t bite on the pump fakes!” to Chris Boucher, Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa this morning.
Live and learn
Speaking of Barnes and Achiuwa, phew, we’ve seen the risks of giving youngsters a lot of responsibility the last two games, haven’t we? The pair has played great basketball overall — Precious in particular has been a revelation, on both ends of the court — but they’ve also committed costly mistakes, including the botched inbounds that allowed the Lakers to tie Friday night’s game, and the missed free throws last night that nearly allowed the 76ers to steal the win.
It’s been tough to watch, but we also know that these are incredibly important reps for the young guys to get as the team develops. They’re going to make mistakes, but — with the help of their veteran teammates and the coaching staff — they’ll learn from them and get better.
The Raptors might be ahead of the timeline we expected for them, which makes the mistakes tough to swallow. But the reps now will prove to be valuable in the seasons to come.