Coming off of a pair of tough and narrow losses to teams expected to be top contenders in the East, the Raptors return home to host the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight.
But please don’t think the sledding gets any easier – despite a David Kahn-based reputation for ineptitude (not to mention seven straight seasons south of .402) and the injuries to Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, this is a pretty solid Wolves outfit. The Wolves beat the Kings in their opener, 92-80, and though that shouldn’t impress anyone, this still looks like a competitive team while they wait for their two stars to return.
For the Raptors, this is a chance to assert themselves as they have in the first two games against a team they probably have more talent then. Hopefully Dwane Casey has the guys as fired up as they were for Saturday’s opening quarter, because a home game against a weaker team following an away game against a strong team has “trap” written all over it. With that said, it’s the third game of the season and it would be a terrible sign for the team to come out flat already, so I anticipate a motivated Raptors squad.
Since this is the second game day in a row, let’s just get right into it.
Guards: Kyle Lowry (starter) and Jose Calderon vs. Luke Ridnour (starter) and J.J. Barea
Lowry continued to show his mucho huevos on Saturday, putting up a ridiculous line and at times looking like he might will the Raptors to a victory. As it is, he took a few ill-advised shots late and the Raptors fell short, but it’s a game they wouldn’t have been in if not for Lowry’s tenacity. The Raptors may have the two best point guards in this game as, while Barea can fill it up and Ridnour is a nice distributor, neither is a starting-calibre point guard right now. It’s possible the Wolves could deploy some two-PG sets given their thin wing positions, and the Raptors should welcome this since their Lowry-Jose combo could handle Ridnour-Barea defensively (with Lowry obviously on the much quicker Barea).
Wings: DeMar DeRozan (starter), Landry Fields (starter), Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson vs. Brandon Roy (starter), Andrei Kirilenko (starter), Alexey Shved and Chase Budinger
This is only a slight advantage given what we saw from DeRozan on Saturday night. Roy has a really nice story and looked alright in their opener, but I’m not sure you can pencil him in for 35 minutes and/or 20 points any longer. AK47 is back in the NBA, which is fantastic as he’s a treat to watch fill up the boxscore (and a great fantasy asset!). I’d assume he’ll draw some time on Bargnani rather than wasting his length on either Raptor wing, and the Wolves are likely to then hide Derrick Williams on Fields, since he apparently has no interest in scoring, ever (note: I’m not sure “hide” is the right word since I haven’t seen enough of Williams to judge his defense). DeRozan may struggle to post up Roy but should have an athleticism advantage, so he’ll need to show the aggression we saw last night (10 free throw attempts). When things go to the bench, Budinger is the best of the bunch and is a highlight waiting to happen. I still haven’t figured out Casey’s wing rotation, and maybe he hasn’t either, but I’d certainly hope to see Ross get another crack at playing time tonight.
Bigs: Andrea Bargnani (starter), Jonas Valanciunas (starter), Amir Johnson and Ed Davis vs. Derrick Williams (starter), Nikola Pekovic (starter), Dante Cunningham and Greg Steimsma
If, as I suspect, AK47 guards Bargs, he’ll be in tough as Kirilenko is a great defender. Bargnani will be forced to shoot over him, which will make him happy but drive us mad. Defensively, Williams is too athletic for Bargnani but hasn’t quite found his game yet at the NBA level. The talent is there and he’s capable of some big double-doubles, so Bargnani will need occasional help checking him, possibly from Davis or Dominic McGuire. Pekovic is a beast, a near-300-pound bulldozer who crashes his way to the rim with reckless abandon. Jonas will have to be careful not to pick up early fouls playing against a huge center for the third straight game (a nice trial-by-fire to start his career), but he should also have a quickness advantage at the offensive end that could afford him some success as the dive-man. The benches are a big advantage for the Raptors, as Steimsma blocks shots but doesn’t do much else and Cunningham is just alright. Ed and Amir have both looked good so far, so if Aaron Gray plays more than 10 minutes I may snap.
Vegas Line: Raptors-3, over/under 189
My call: Raptors by 10, over
The Timberwolves certainly aren’t a bad unit but the Raptors have looked good so far, too, and have a depth and talent advantage at most spots. Kirilenko’s craftiness and versatility, Pekovic’s bull-in-a-china-shop offense, and the potential for Roy to explode are all concerns, of course, but I’m putting my faith in another strong showing from the back court and some lessons learned for the Lethaluanian keeping Gray off the floor (meaning we won’t be playing 5-on-4 on offense).