Writing this preview on Tuesday night feels like somewhat of a lost cause — who’s to say the players on the team now are still there when the Raps take the court tomorrow! We’ve seen the resurgence of Pascal Siakam rumours pertaining to the Brooklyn Nets, joining already fervent discussions around OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.
It would be a very weird game indeed for the Raptors to take the court as composed, 18 hours away from a deadline where most people know something is going to happen.
In any case, I’ll make my best effort to talk about basketball in this one. Fresh off a 4-3 road trip, the Raptors are now home for five games — with the All-Star Break in between — for a stretch of action chock full of win potential. The Spurs definitely qualify, sitting at 14-40 and dealing with a handful of injuries in their rotation.
Can the Raptors continue to win amidst the madness surrounding them? Let’s look at the game details and then what to watch for.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto Raptors – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa
San Antonio Spurs – Malaki Branham, Josh Richardson, Keldon Johnson, Keita Bates-Diop, Jakob Poeltl
Toronto Raptors – OG Anunoby (wrist – out), Otto Porter Jr. (foot – out)
San Antonio Spurs – Tre Jones (foot – questionable), Jeremy Sochan (back – doubtful), Romeo Langford (hip – out), Devin Vassell (knee – out), Dewayne Dedmon (trade – out)
Defending without OG
During the road trip, OG Anunoby landed hard on his wrist and was reported to be out at least until the team returned home. It’ll be a bit longer now, as Anunoby has been ruled out of Wednesday’s contest too.
Anunoby won't play tomorrow. On court but no contact.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) February 7, 2023
One of the things holding the Raptors back from an even more successful swing out west was their defense. In critical matchups against the Suns (Mikal Bridges) and Jazz (Lauri Markannen), the Raptors were woefully inept in moving laterally and preventing these talented wings from getting into the paint.
The Spurs might not have anyone as exceptional as those two, even more so with guys like Romeo Langford and Devin Vassell out, but there still needs to be attention paid to the defensive end. Especially at the outset, setting precedent with energy will be key.
Scottie establishing early
Once again on Sunday, Scottie Barnes came alive in the fourth quarter — scoring 13 of his 16 points in the game and finishing with two key baskets against Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies. No small feat, but the Raptors really need Barnes to get more acclimated to producing early in games.
Scottie’s offensive game has looked more stilted next to Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, as he’s often caught between deferring to those two and establishing his own offense early in games. What we saw down the stretch against Memphis is that he trusted his abilities a bit more — and made decisive moves to the basket when the ball swung his way.
Having a handful of these opportunites come early in the game will help build aggression in the Raptors’ offense, which has been lacking as fatigue has caught up with Siakam — and to a lesser extent VanVleet. Barnes seeing scoring chances and going to get them, not just in the fourth quarter, unlocks so much for the Raps.
Continuity of vibes
While the vibes have been in the doldrums through most of the season, there was some levity at the end of the Grizzlies win. Scottie shouting about “going home”, back slaps and skips to the locker room — this is a team that’s happy to have a seven-game road trip behind them. We’ve been saying it all season, but maybe this is the moment where the team comes together. With five games in friendly confines, it’s a great opportunity to continue the good vibes against a team like the Spurs.
I won’t hold out hope, we’ve been burned before, but it could happen!