Kyrie Irving

At 19-49, the Raptors haven’t lived up to even the most pessimistic of expectations. I had them pegged at about 30 wins at the start of the season, and always thought they would hit that mark; which would leave them with the 8th most ping pong balls in the draft (they are currently 5th). A couple wins here and there really matters when you are rebuilding and need high picks.

It’s great to see Reggie Evans back, but I can’t help but think that if he didn’t get injured so early in the season, that the Raptors would be floating in that 8-12th range in the standings. While he’s only played 20 games, the Raptors are 8-12 with Evans in the lineup. And while I wasn’t a big fan of his to start to the season, he is exactly the kind of player you need lined-up with Bargnani in the front line to make up for some of the things Andrea doesn’t do well. If he played a bit more defense, and was a couple of years younger, I would be a huge proponent of resigning him and starting him alongside Bargs for another year or two until Davis is ready to take over.

After dispatching the Wizards on Friday, the Raptors play 9 of their last 14 games on the road, with the potential of affecting the standings and playoff positioning along the way:

  • A game each against the Knicks and Sixers who are jockeying for 6th
  • Two games against the Bucks who are 2-games out of 8th

The last time these two played, the Raptors took down a Durant-less Thunder 111-99, by executing their offense (read Bargnani, Barbosa and Amir cleaning up one-on-one), shooting 55% from the field. Bargnani had one of his better games of the season, dropping 26pts 12rebs in 42min of play.

Injuries

Toronto
Linas Kleiza – Out
Amir Johnson – Day to day

Oklahoma City
Kendrick Perkins – Day to day

Player Report

Jose Calderon
He outplayed Westbrook the last time out, especially on the defensive end, but don’t expect the same defensive pressure with Durant in the lineup. Westbrook wont have the pressure on him to perform, and can play looser without the added pressure. Friday against the Wizards, Calderon was dangerous coming off that high screen, looking for his own offense (and sticking it to Wall & Co.). As the roll-call said, he had two guys who scored 30 points a piece, but only managed 6 assists. I’d like to see a bit more balance with his offense/play-making, but 17/6 is damn good.

DeMar DeRozan
8-9 from the line Friday against the Wizards, amazing. For me, that’s the next area of DeRozan’s game that he should work on. For a guy who is so athletic and has no fear putting the ball on the floor and attacking the paint, getting that many free looks at the rim would be huge. He’s got his hands full between checking Sefolosha and Harden. Harden, especially, has flourished with Green getting traded; he’s been a huge late pick-up for me in fantasy.

James Johnson
Love this guy, he produces across the board, and has made all of us forget about Julian Wright; yea, remember him? The best part about his inclusion in the starting unit is that he doesn’t need to shoot the ball to contribute. Much like Amir, he’s content with playing off the ball, and contributing where he can. While Johnson has become my favourite Raptor during his short tenure, I’ll be rooting for Durant since he’s theĀ centerpieceĀ of my fantasy team, and I’m just barely holding it down in the 1st round of my playoffs.

Reggie Evans
I’m guessing he gets the start with Amir on the bubble; even if he doesn’t, Reggie should get the lions-share of the minutes at the four. I spoke about his importance to this team a bit earlier (Raptors are 8-12 with him in the lineup), but who the hell is Trevor Booker, and how did Evans let him drop 26pts 13rebs 3ast 2stl 1blk? The membership to the “The Raptors will make you an all-star” club has been increased by 1. Ibaka will pose the same problems as Booker, but will be a bigger force on defense (dude blocks 2.5 shots a game, and has put up 6+ blocks over a bunch of different games).

Andrea Bargnani
Nothing but love for Il Mago. He should put up 27 tonight.

The Line

The gamblers have the Thunder as 13 point favourites with an over/under of 210, so expect a fast paced up and down game.

Happy New Year to all the Persians out there; one love.