There’s a scene in the 1997 movie Armageddon — one of the worst movies ever made, but maybe also the single best bad movie ever made? — where, as our heroes prepare to launch into space so they can go drill a hole in an asteroid, the NASA flight director says to all those assembled, “All right ladies and gentlemen, it’s pucker time.” It’s far from the worst bit of dialogue in the film, but it’s got to be in the top (er, bottom) 20 lines from the script.
Yet that’s what came to me this morning when thinking about today’s Toronto Raptors game... and all I can say about that is, you know I’ve run out of ways to describe how important each win is for the Raptors if I’m resorting to quotes from freakin’ Armageddon.
So it’s the Raptors vs. the Washington Wizards today in an early evening tip-off at Scotiabank Arena. The stakes aren’t quite as high as a planet-killing asteroid bearing down on us, even if at times that's what the end of this Raptors season has felt like. But a win is critical if the Raptors want to keep pace with the Atlanta Hawks, who beat the Indiana Pacers yesterday and remain one full game up on the Raptors in the “race” for the 8th seed, and homecourt advantage in the play-in round.
Where to watch
Sportsnet, 6:00PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Will Barton
Washington Wizards — Delon Wright, Kristaps Porzingis, Daniel Gafford, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert
Toronto Raptors — Scottie Barnes (wrist – questionable), Gary Trent (elbow – questionable), Precious Achiuwa (hamstring – questionable), Joe Wieskamp (hamstring – out), Dalano Banton (thumb – out), Otto Porter Jr. (foot – out)
Washington Wizards — Bradley Beal (knee – out), Kyle Kuzma (ankle – out), Monte Morris (groin – questionable),
Neither team will likely be at full strength today, which means the quality of basketball on hand may not be the greatest! The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma, while Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. are all questionable for the Raptors as of this writing.
In Friday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Pascal Siakam stepped up (more on him in a minute) and dropped in 32, and O.G. Anunoby bounced back from an awful game against the Pacers to hit 3 of 4 three-pointers en route to 17 points. The Raptors will need Siakam, Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet to post big games again to win today.
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points on 8-or-11 shooting in the second half against the Pacers Wednesday, then scored 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the first half against the Pistons Friday. After a seven-game stretch from the end of February through March 14, Siakam failed to score more than 20 points in a game, but in the five games since, he’s averaging 25.6 points on 53% shooting, along with 10.2 boards and 7.4 assists.
That’s a little more like it! The Raptors missed that Siakam through the first half of March. Hopefully he’s got enough juice to finish to season strong, as the Raptors absolutely need their All-Star in top form right now, as (say it with me) every win counts.
And if he can keep those numbers up, and off the Raptors can sneak end the regular season on a winning streak and sneak into the 8th seed... well, that might help Siakam re-enter the All-NBA race.
Depth concerns creep into starting lineup
One would think that Will Barton’s time as a starter — two games, in which he missed 13 shots and scored 13 total points, in 46 minutes of play — has come to an end.
But who can the Raptors start in his place? Chris Boucher is much more valuable to the team off the bench. Jeff Dowtin has impressed, but again, they need his scoring in the second unit. Malachi Flynn has burned too many chances and probably doesn’t deserve another.
Which brings us to... Thad Young!?
Thad hasn’t played since March 10 and hasn’t been part of the rotation since Jakob Poeltl arrived. But! In 8 games as a starter for the injury-plagued Raptors in November, Young averaged 10 points on 58% shooting, along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.8 steals.
He’s a solid playmaker in the half court, and can replace at least some of what Scottie Barnes does in that area. He’s also just a smart player who knows where to be on the court. Sure, he’s old and slow, but the Raptors without Barnes, Trent and Achiuwa aren’t exactly a fast-moving team.
I think it’s time to bench Barton and go Young!