Is everyone on board yet? The Toronto Raptors have been playing some of the best basketball in the entire NBA for the last several months. Talk about peaking at the right time!
The Raptors are 28-15 since Jan 1. That’s the seventh best record in the NBA just ahead of Miami and Milwaukee— (@AaronBenRose) March 29, 2022
After beating the short-handed Celtics who were short-handed for reasons that could become very interesting come playoff time (see: rumours of unvaccinated Celtics who missed Monday night’s game) as well as the full-handed referees (see: Evan Scott), Toronto is primed and ready to take on yet another one of the NBA’s hottest teams in the Minnesota Timberwolves. Those, RaptorsHQ readers, are words I never thought I would type.
Minnesota is 12-5 since the All Star break and has seemed to have found an identity after decades of struggling with that very issue. As is customary for a Chris Finch run offensive, the Timberwolves are pouring in points, averaging 115.4 per game. That’s good for second in the entire NBA. The Timberwolves!
Ultimately, the Toronto Raptors are hopeful that this turns into a grind it out, defensive minded game. While Minnesota — who have long been known as a bad defensive team —are playing well on that end of the floor this year, sitting at 13th overall in defensive rating while the Raptors currently hover just ahead of them in 12th. The massive difference between these two teams is the pace at which they play. Toronto ranks 2nd last in the league in pace, while Minnesota ranks 2nd best. Buckle up for a battle of styles!
DraftKings currently has the Raptors favoured to win this game by a 3-pointer (the Raptors are -3).
With much on the line for both teams, expect a hard fought battle that could go either way. Just so long as one of those ways doesn’t involve Anthony Edwards and Yuta Watanabe.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Minnesota — Patrick Beverly, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns
Toronto — Khem Birch (knee – questionable), Malachi Flynn (hamstring – out)
Minnesota — Malik Beasley (ankle – out), Jaden McDaniels (ankle – out)
Line: Raptors -3, O/U 230.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Pascal Siakam is Better Than Your Team’s Best Player
SPICY P ️— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 29, 2022
Pascal Siakam's big night helps the Raptors hold off the Celtics in OT. pic.twitter.com/c38Sg38ykO
This has largely been a fact over the course of the last couple of months as Pascal Siakam has, deservedly, worked his way into the All-NBA discussion. There just aren’t many players in the league that are better than Pascal right now. Full stop. Although, there might be one that shares the court with him tonight that is very much in the discussion and that is Karl-Anthony Towns. Like Siakam, Towns is his having the best season of his career and he too is absolutely laying waste to opposing team’s defenses. While his claim of being the best shooting big of all time might be a stretch, he certainly is in the conversation.
On the other hand, basketball isn’t a one-way sport and Siakam exists on a whole other level on the defense end when compared with KAT. Though it might go unnoticed because of the vast amount of above-average to excellent defenders on the Raptors, Siakam takes as many turns as anyone on Toronto acting as the fulcrum of the Raptors defense, and to excellent results. This, as mentioned above with the pace that these two teams play, will be another signifier of how this game will end. Can the Raptors slow the Timberwolves down enough? Will the battle of Raptor’s star defenders blot out the shine of the blazing offensive Timberwolves? It will likely come down to which star player asserts their will the most on both ends of the court.
Outside of Fred VanVleet — and now again — Khem Birch’s knees, the Raptors are finding a way to stay healthy while locked in an incredibly tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference. OG Anunoby looks like he hasn’t missed a beat since returning from a fractured finger. Coach Nick Nurse did him as much of a kindness as he could afford by ramping his minutes up semi-gradually from 26 to 28 to just shy of 40 in the OT win against the Boston Celtics.
All of this to say, the Raptors cannot afford to lose a major piece to injury and almost every player in their starting five can be considered a major piece due to the style of play and defensive schemes that Nurse employs. Each Toronto Raptor is so crucial that losing even one of them disrupts the tenuous balance and harmony that Nurse has achieved. While the bench has certainly improved, slotting in a Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa or Armoni Brooks for extended periods of time with one of Trent Jr. VanVleet, Anunoby, Barnes or Siakam has potential disaster written all over it. Toronto barely survived it’s time with OG as they went 8-7 in his absence and now is not the time to test out how they would do without another crucial piece.
Block Out the Noise
One big way to stay out of the injury report is to simply not engage with one of the loudest mouths and busiest bodies on the court in Patrick Beverley. As mentioned above, Beverley, though I hate to say it, has turned the Timberwolves around in two meaningful ways. Firstly, he actually cares — and is pretty good — on the defensive end, which is an end of the court that Minnesota has seemingly disregarded for the better part of a couple of decades.
Secondly, Beverley is unapologetically himself and that version of self is an annoying, fly in your soup disruptor that the young Timberwolves have adopted as their own. Before Patrick Beverley, Karl-Anthony Towns had a reputation of being something of a push-over. The term “soft” had been thrown around to a great extent. He was a player who could probably stand up for himself if pushed to the brink, but would not allow himself to get to that point, sometimes to Minnesota’s detriment. Well, Beverley is the walking, talking brink, and his maniacal energy, paired with Anthony Edward’s free-flowing, fun-loving vibes has made the Timberwolves noticeably better and, dare I say, really fun this year.
The Raptors have to tune all of that out and there might not be a better player in the league at blocking out the noise than Fred VanVleet, who will, as it so happens, likely be lined up with Beverley most of the night. From the Kyle Lowry school of “never too high, never too low”, VanVleet has graduated at the top of his class and while Siakam might be the All-NBA motor that makes this Toronto team click, it’s VanVleet’s leadership and steadiness that keeps the ship afloat through the lulls. The Raptors will need a steady dose of VanVleet’s voice tonight, but more than anything else, they will need his unspoken calm to quell the stormy pest.
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