It’s the Raptors vs Rudy Gay. A game that, if it weren’t for the trade, would be a speck on the NBA calendar. It would be the last game shown in the highlight pack on ESPN, and the Fan 590 wouldn’t bother giving the score. As it stands, it’s a game that merits our curiosity if for nothing more than guessing which Rudy Gay will show up: the guy which goes 4-17 and everyone hates, or the guy who goes 4-17, hits the game winner, and everyone tolerates. I jest, of course, but I’m not that far off. He has had a revival in Sacramento where he’s averaging 20.7 pts, 3.2 ast, and shooting 53% since the trade (full comparison).
As Sacramento continues to mire in their misery of losing 9 of 11 (albeit they had a big win in Chicago on Monday – box), they must wonder just how much the trade worked out for them as a franchise. Of course, it worked out for Rudy, perhaps even waking something inside of him that nudged him and said, “Hey man, this is a team sport”. Enough Rudy talk as he’s a part of the franchise’s dark past, although I’m quite positive he’ll be met with a smattering of boos next time he’s at the ACC for whatever reason. I’m more curious in this one for Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez, who the Kings gave up on rather quickly. The two have usurped Fields and Buyckstone, respectively, to enter Dwane Casey’s rotation permanently. It’s they who must be chomping at the bits to show the Kings first-hand their bartering oversight.
There’s good news for the Kings who are bolstered by the return of DeMarcus Cousins. He returned from a six-game outage to play 34 minutes against the Bulls for 25 points and 16 rebounds (he speaks about it here). Cousins is the prototypical player that gives Jonas Valanciunas trouble, i.e., he can shield Valanciunas from the paint, making him a bystander when it comes to rebounding and shot-blocking. They’ve only gone head-to-head once and in that one Cousins at 25 pts/13 rebs, and Valanciunas had 3 pts/3 reb (box). This is exactly the type of matchup that brings to surface the Raptors lack of depth at center, and no doubt Casey will have to rely on Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, and perhaps even Austin Daye to neutralize Cousins.
Kyle Lowry, who said the injury isn’t serious and was something that was bothering him for a few games, plans to play tonight despite the knee being a little bit sore. Little bit sore? What? I can’t understand why he just doesn’t sit out so the knee becomes un-sore. If he aggravates whatever’s going on down there the Raptors get shot on two accounts – immediately value to the team, and value on the market with February 22 approaching. The opposing PG is Isaiah Thomas who is enjoying another fine season, so Lowry’s help is needed but at what risk?
Matchup-wise, Cousins is the one to worry about and I’m sure we’ll see Rudy Gay being defended by a combination of Terrence Ross and John Salmons. Ross and Gay would have gone up against each other tons of time in practice so you’d think Ross would be the preferred choice, but if there’s one thing about Dwane Casey you can count on, it’s that there are absolutely no guarantees about playing time and everything is performance-driven, as it should be. A true meritocracy.
DeRozan will be matched up against the 6’4″ Marcus Thornton and this could be a chance for him to expand on some of those post-moves we saw against Portland. If you check out his compilation video against the Blazers, you’ll notice he had a couple quick-decision turnaround jumpers over players and displayed some creativity in the post as well. With Lowry nursing an injury, DeRozan’s contribution tonight is made even more critical.
Ahead of his return, Vasquez contrasted his experience in previous stops with Toronto:
“It took me four years to get on a team (like the Raptors). Memphis was kind of like that, we built that bond, that chemistry, New Orleans, we went through a lot of injuries and Sacramento was not good at all. But here, everything’s clicked.”
Final thought: Isaiah Thomas is a pretty good point point guard that, some have suggested (podcast), could be on the block considering he’s a RFA this summer with a QO of $1.15M and is sure to be getting paid some decent money. With Masai Ujiri failing to net a pick by dangling Lowry thus far, how much sense would it make for the Raptors to go after Thomas in the summer? Keep in mind the reason the Kings traded Vasquez was because they felt quite comfortable handing Thomas the reins, so there’s that.
The Vegas line is the Raptors laying a point, but here are some interesting bets from one of the sites I visit for such nefarious purposes:
- Rudy Gay Scoring Over/Under: 20.5
- DeMar DeRozan Scoring Over/Under: 21.5
- Jonas Valanciunas Scoring Over/Under: 14.5
- Sacramento Total Points Over/Under: 99.5 (can the Raptors keep them to under 100?)
- 1st Quarter Points Total Over/Under: 50.5
Enjoy the game. Blake will be around later with something.