After letting one (a 23-point lead!) slip away last night, coach Darko Rajakovic and the Toronto Raptors are back on the floor to face a well-rested New Orleans Pelicans.
The Toronto Raptors played an excellent 30-or-so minutes against the Western Conference’s best team. They will have to match the same effort and discipline against the Pelicans — only this time, they will have to do it without RJ Barrett while facing a different opponent style, with Zion Williamson and old friend Jonas Valanciunas looking to inflict some pain in the paint. To make it worse, the shorthanded Raptors will have to dig deep and play through lactic acid to win tonight, as they clearly looked gassed in last night’s 2OT thriller (letdown?) against the Thunder.
Other than Barrett, who is out, Rajakovic says no Raptors are on minutes restrictions because of 2OT game, but he says he might try to keep individual stints shorter, especially for the recently injured Quickley and Poeltl.— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) February 5, 2024
Speaking of Zion, he is ranked second in the NBA in points in the paint, averaging 17.4 PITP per game. A few days ago, he carved the San Antonio Spurs for 33 points and eight boards. The Pelicans scored nearly half of their 121 points in the paint despite the presence of Zach Collins and a rookie named Victor Wembanyama.
Without Barrett, the Raptors would need Scottie Barnes and Immanuel Quickley to step up their game to win tonight. Quickley returned from a three-game absence due to a thigh injury. Coach Rajakovic leaned on him heavily in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Thunder last night, finishing with 19 points and 11 dimes. Barnes finished with a solid stat line of 19 points, nine dimes, and seven boards but was a non-factor in the fourth period and extra time. Coach Rajakovic had to do a better job getting Barnes involved, but Barnes would have to want “it.”
Since the Pascal Siakam trade, Gary Trent Jr. has averaged 15.2 points and shot 50.8% from behind the arc on at least seven attempts. Bruce Brown will likely get the start tonight instead of Barrett, and with the trade deadline around the corner, the Raptors might as well keep showcasing him. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the expected impact, so maybe the Raptors should reconsider and don’t further hurt his trade value.
Three keys to the game
- Protect the paint
- Transition defense
- Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes played 48 minutes tonight, the most he's played in a game since his rookie season.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) February 5, 2024
Barnes scored 17 points on 7-for-12 FG in 29 min through the first three quarters.
He scored 2 points on 1-for-3 FG in 19 min through the rest of the game.
The Raptors are thin in the frontcourt, and Zion has embarrassed the Raptors a few times already. They will need to have a solid defensive game plan and be disciplined enough to execute that said game plan. The Pelicans aren’t known as a transition team, but once you have players like Zion on the open floor, it’s hard to stop a freight train at 200 kilometres per hour.
More importantly, coach Rajakovic must incorporate Scottie Barnes better in his offensive schemes. He doesn’t need to be treated like Carmelo Anthony on every possession, but Barnes has to be utilized better than what we saw last night, especially during crunch time. As the coach, it’s not just about drawing up plays to get Barnes involved. Coach Rajakovic also needs to have that personal touch and perhaps go to Barnes and say: “Hey, it’s time to be aggressive, or do you need a hug?”
How to Watch:
Sportsnet at 8:00 pm ET
Toronto: Immanuel Quickley, Gary Trent Jr., Bruce Brown, Scottie Barnes, Jakob Poeltl
New Orleans: CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas
Toronto: RJ Barrett (out - knee), Jontay Porter (out - back), Markquis Nowell (out - 905), Javon Freeman-Liberty (out - 905), Kira Lewis Jr. (out - 905)
New Orleans: Malcolm Hill (out - NBA GL), EJ Liddell (out - NBA GL), Dereon Seabron (out - NBA GL)