Coming in to this season, I really wasn’t expecting a playoff chase like this. I thought the Toronto Raptors would be either firmly in the 9-10 soft, or out of the playoff picture completely.
But now here we sit, watching our team try and claw its way out of the 7th spot into 6th — or even 5th? — with every game of near-playoff importance.
I wasn’t ready!
Tonight, the Raptors host a reeling Indiana Pacers team, who’ve lost 7 of their last 10 games. The Pacers will be without, well, most of their rotation, which means the Raptors are heavy 11.5-point favourites.
Still, the Raptors have had their problems on home court. Can they solve them tonight?
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Pascal SIakam
Indiana — Buddy Hield, Oshae Brissett, Goga Bitadze, Malcolm Brogdon, Tyrese Hamilton
Toronto — Gary Trent Jr. (toe – questionable), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out)
Indiana — Jalen Smith (illness – questionable), Duane Washington Jr. (hip – questionable), Goga Bitadze (foot – questionable), Malcolm Brogdon (conditioning – questionable), Chris Duarte (toe – out), Isaiah Jackson (headache – out), T.J. McConnell (wrist – out), Ricky Rubio (knee – out), Myles Turner (foot – out), T.J. Warren (ankle – out)
Dare we hope that Gary Trent Jr. is good to go tonight? That we might see the Raptors with their top eight players for the first time in six weeks? Other than poor Malachi Flynn, who got hurt at the worst time, only Trent remains on the injury report. (VanVleet’s knee is still bothering him, clearly, but he’s not officially listed.) But OG Anunoby is back, and he was a huge difference maker.
With 10 games to go, it would be ideal if the Raptors could play most or all of them with their top eight. Getting that chemistry back — if they ever even fully developed it! before the playoffs or play-in would certainly bode well for an extended first-round series.
It’s still very odd that the Raptors have such a better record on the road than they do at home. After last year, and the no-fan mandates this year, you would think the Raptors would thrive at home. And yeah, maybe they’re getting used to it, but also — they've been playing in full arenas on the road! So, I don’t get it.
Thursday night’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers might well have been their best home win yet. The stakes against a lower-seeded Pacers team seem less, but at the same time — these are the games the team needs to win to stay apace in the East.
But the Raptors do indeed seem to be playing down to the competition this year. A loss tonight to the Pacers, in the midst of this playoff chase, would rank lower than all three Pistons losses.
Well, maybe not that low.
Seeing Oshae Brissett go from fringe player to rotation player and highlight reel mainstay.
Brissett has started the past 18 games for the Pacers, and is averaging 13 points and 7 boards in that time. His shooting is still a bit suspect (40% from the field, 33% from downtown), and there’s still defensive growth needed, but his energy remains off the charts and he’s scoring opportunistically.
It’s a shame the Raptors let him go; it’s easy to compare him to Yuta Watanabe, who the Raptors kept, but I suspect if the roles were reversed, Yuta would be putting up those numbers in Indy. I’m not sure Brissett would crack Nick Nurse’s roster any more than Yuta has.
But I’m still thrilled for him. I hope he sticks around in the league for a long time.