The first matchup of the season between these two divisional rivals may have a little more anticipation than usual tonight. For those who may not remember, the New York Knicks filed a lawsuit on August 22nd against the Toronto Raptors, Darko Rajakovic and Ike Azotam. The lawsuit alleges that Azotam, a former video, analytics and player development assistant with the Knicks, sent proprietary player and scouting information to the Raptors and that Rajakovic and other Raptors staff members conspired with Azotam to do so.
The Raptors have steadfastly denied the allegations, even filing a motion to dismiss the case on October 16th. Nearly a month later, infamous Knicks owner James Dolan (more recently known as the owner of the Las Vegas Sphere) resigned from the NBA’s board of directors while subsequently filing for more than $10 million in damages from the Raptors.
It’s yet to be seen whether this legal dispute will translate over to the players, but either way, the hardwood isn’t the only court where the Raptors and Knicks will be battling it out this season.
Getting back to basketball, the Raptors are coming off an impressive win over the Phoenix Suns on the second half of a back to back. Wednesday’s win actually marked exactly five years to the day since Kevin Durant last lost in Toronto when his Golden State Warriors fell to the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors in what would end up being an NBA Finals preview. Boy, have times changed.
Fun fact: It's been exactly 5 years since Kevin Durant last lost a game in Toronto.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) November 29, 2023
Nov. 29th, 2018 - KD had 51 points in an OT loss & has won his last 3 games at SBA.
While he’s not Kawhi Leonard (yet), Toronto has a new wing leading the way. Scottie Barnes was excellent again on Wednesday, scoring 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. The budding all-star’s scoring has slowed as of last, but returned back to his early season form by taking over as a closer in the final frame. Barnes and Siakam lead the way for Toronto in scoring, both averaging over 19 points along with more than five assists per game.
Toronto’s success has largely relied on their top players’ ability to score, which has seemed to only happen consistently against smaller teams. When the Raptors get into the paint and allow Pascal and Scottie to use their size to their advantage to both score and hit the open man, good things happen for this team. With New York on the second half of a back to back on the road, and Julius Randle questionable, Toronto may be able to penetrate the paint on what is usually a very large and defensively sound team.
However, the Knicks are no joke. Their 11-7 record is already fairly good, but they have been on fire recently. With nine wins in their last 12 games, New York is one of the best teams in the NBA this past month. The Knicks are playing a slow, grinding game dependent on good defence from their big front court and tremendous guard play led by point guard Jalen Brunson and 2023 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Immanuel Quickley off the bench. While both teams like to play low-event basketball, tonight’s matchup may be a close, low-scoring affair that goes right down to the wire.
Here’s how to watch tonight (the game, not the court debate):
How to Watch:
TSN, at 7:30 P.M. ET
Toronto: Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
New York: Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Josh Hart, Mitchell Robinson
Toronto: Christian Koloko (Out - Respiratory), Gradey Dick (Out- Illness)
New York: Julius Randle (Questionable - Knee)
Limit Jalen Brunson
While Julius Randle was the Knicks’ lone all-star last season, that spot likely should have went to Jalen Brunson. He’s proving he’s more than deserving of a spot in the all-star game again this season, leading the Knicks with more than 25 points and five assists per game. As of late, his numbers are pretty unbelievable. Brunson is coming off a 42 point game last night against the Pistons and shooting better than 50% overall AND from three in his last 10 games. Brunson is especially good against the Raptors, having scored more than 20 points in each of his last three games against them since becoming a Knick. His first game against Toronto since joining New York is actually the only time he hasn’t scored 20 against the Raptors. Especially if Julius Randle misses the game, Brunson will likely be leading the Knicks offence. Containing his scoring and forcing RJ Barrett, Josh Hart and New York’s guards off the bench into shooting the ball more may be in coach Rajakovic’s gameplan tonight.
Win the Board Battle
New York is third in the NBA in rebounds per game, with Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle both averaging more than 10 a game, and also lead the way in rebound percentage. If the latter is out tonight, that opens up some more opportunities, however Josh Hart is also a known pest when it comes to grabbing the ball. Toronto is sixth in rebounds per game and 11th in rebound percentage, but have struggled at times to grab offensive rebounds (especially off of missed threes). In what’s looking to be a low-scoring affair, the more possessions possible the better the chances of winning tonight.
Dennis “Magic” Schroder Returns?
The German point guard put up 12 assists in Toronto’s win over the Suns a few nights ago, breaking his streak of 12 consecutive games of single digit assists. He nearly broke the double digit mark the night before against Cleveland, finishing that game with nine assists. Schroder was a wizard early in the season, posting 10 assists or more in four of his first six games as a Raptor. His playmaking and guard play is a breath of fresh air for this team that focuses heavily on wing players and working the offence out of the post. Schroder returning back to his early season “Magic Johnson” point guard status rather than more of a scoring guard would do wonders for this team’s offence.