After the Toronto Raptors began the season 2-0 with seamless victories over a pair of lesser opponents, it was clear that more adversity was to come. The schedule would get tougher. They would have to travel outside the Air Canada Centre. The new offensive system would hit bumps and test the team’s resolve and commitment. These are the types of battles teams wage with themselves and the schedule over an 82-game schedule. Better to get them out of the way now as a means of fortifying and building early.
What’s happened, though, is a bit much. All of the adversity is not supposed to hit at once. The Raptors now find themselves in a cruel monkey’s paw situation, having been granted a healthy training camp and a strong start out of the gate at the cost of all of that going away immediately after. They coughed up a winnable game they didn’t play well in, which, sure, it happens. And they’re without Jonas Valanciunas, who is dealing with an ankle sprain that’s not believed to be serious. On top of that, though, DeMar DeRozan and Lucas Nogueira are both banged up, they’ve already waived their 15th man, the clock has started for “NBA days” for their two-way players, and now they have to visit the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors are a juggernaut, a running, shooting, dunking test for even the best of teams. Head to Oakland at full health, and there’s close to a 100-percent chance you’re leaving with a loss over the last four seasons. Golden State’s biggest challenge each night is themselves. For everyone else, they’re a benchmark you hope to match for 48 minutes on the best of nights. Trying to do that without three players, two of them key pieces, would seem impossible. It is not, and so the game will be played, and the Raptors will look to play plucky underdog, their preferred mode of operation, anyway.
The game tips off at 10:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.
Normally we’d reach out to someone for some back-and-forth here, but I picked up the preview on short notice. Apologies.
As mentioned off the top, the Raptors are suddenly a walking wounded. Valanciunas is traveling on the trip, which is a great sign, and he’s said he hopes to play at some point on the trip. It won’t be in this one.
Behind him, Nogueira is dealing with an ankle sprain, and this is actually the longest into a season he’s made it without getting hurt – he was injured by the end of camp in each of the last three years. You’d think if it’s not serious he’ll play. It’s not out of recklessness or lack of concern for Nogueira. His problem gaining traction over his four years with the team has often been succumbing to minor injuries, and he’ll probably feel at this point he has to fight through. Nogueira is a good player with a short-term opportunity here, and it would be disappointing if he can’t make the most of it because of injury once again. Hopefully the fact that the injury didn’t cost him any time Monday bodes well for his chances here. He’s officially listed as questionable.
If Nogueira can’t go, Dwane Casey is left with really only two options: Start Jakob Poeltl and break up the bench group, or start Serge Ibaka at center and add an extra guard or wing, likely also breaking up the bench group. Consistency and role certainty is great. It’s probably not a worthy end when down two or three pieces. Poeltl has been really good in his role and would be a better option than Ibaka for rebounding purposes, and the Warriors start big with Zaza Pachulia at center before downsizing later. Starting Ibaka might help defensively, but then the Raptors are matching up big off the bench opposite Golden State’s smaller groups. There aren’t great answers here. The guess here is Poeltl starts if Nogueira can’t.
It gets worse. DeRozan appeared to hurt his right knee late in Monday’s game and missed practice Tuesday with what’s being called a thigh bruise. He’s set to be evaluated today and the beat writers on the road seemed confident that he’s going to be fine. Whether that means he plays here is unclear, and you can make a case that a game they’re already going to be in tough to win is a good occasion to play it safe. It’s hard for the team and players to think that way and essentially concede a victory, though, so if DeRozan is able, he’ll probably want to play. If he can’t go, Casey would probably slide C.J. Miles into the starting lineup for some extra shooting, but don’t rule out Delon Wright, who has considerable length and has been one of the team’s best defenders so far this season.
If both DeRozan and Nogueira are out, all bets are off as to what the Raptors will do. Maybe Casey gets real funky and just starts Kyle Lowry and the bench.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: (DeMar DeRozan)
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: (Lucas Nogueira), Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Jonas Valanciunas
TBD: DeMar DeRozan, Lucas Nogueira
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
The Warriors enter almost entirely healthy, save for Damian Jones, who was dealing with an illness on the weekend. He probably doesn’t factor into the rotation plans here, anyway, and is one of their healthy inactives most nights. Now that Omri Casspi is back, the other inactive slot probably goes to Kevon Looney. That leaves 13 players of varying degrees of danger, able to be deployed in any number of different ways. The Warriors start fairly normal, with elite shooting at four spots, then go small in hybrid bench groups and also have an enormous lob threat waiting. In trying to find things to breakdown here, it’s just overwhelming how deep the Warriors go, to the point of Casspi and Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell making it so that Steve Kerr could probably justify a full 13-man rotation most nights. It’s obscene.
They haven’t exactly found a groove yet, though, which leaves a window for Toronto to try to steal one. Golden State is 2-2, they’ve been getting to the line at a pedestrian rate, they turn the ball over a lot, and they haven’t done anything particularly well at the defensive end yet because, well, they don’t need to yet. They have that extra gear on defense, but they’re 23rd in defensive efficiency so far, so the Raptors might be able to score enough to make things interesting. The Raptors have shot a larger portion of their shots from behind the arc than all but one other team, and that high-variance approach, if it bends hot instead of cold for a night, is a fair enough David strategy. Catch ’em underestimating you and #ProveEm, and all that.
PG: Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston
SG: Klay Thompson, Nick Young, Patrick McCaw
SF: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Omri Casspi
PF: Draymond Green, David West, Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney
C: Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, (Damian Jones)
TBD: Damian Jones
Santa Cruz: Chris Boucher, Quinn Cook
The Raptors are 13-point underdogs and the over-under is way up at 224.5. The books seem to think the Raptors will be blown out in a shootout here. It’s probably not worth thinking about until statuses are updated for DeRozan and Nogueira.