There are few teams that can boast as dangerous a frontcourt as the New Orleans Pelicans, who visit the Toronto Raptors on Thursday armed with both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Impossible covers as individuals the last few years, the partnership took some time to begin figuring out but now presents opponents with one of the most difficult defensive tasks imaginable: Slow down a pair of multifaceted bigs who can change positions seamlessly, shoot the three, put the ball on the floor, and bully on the block, all while playing good-to-great defense depending on engagement level.
It’s just a lot.
“It’s incredible when you think about your centre and power forward going out there doing the things that they’re capable of doing,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround. “It’s got to be a collective thing tonight, to guard both of them and try to cut off the things they do. It’s going to be a challenge on all of them. It’s one of them game that’s going to be extremely physical and we’ve definitely got to be locked in.”
The Raptors have bodies to throw at both, and the key Thursday may be to keep them out of a comfort zone by offering a bunch of different looks. There’s no stopping them, even if Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas suddenly stumble into some defensive symbiosis, so presenting them with size, then speed, then length, and so on, might be the strategic option head coach Dwane Casey ultimately settles on.
“I think they have enough big guys. That’s where our adventure is,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said of the Raptors. “I’m sure they’ll try to (roll out a bunch of players). But we also have other things those guys can do. They’re very good on the floor. They’re very good runners. We’ve just got to play the way we play. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how everybody else plays, because we want to play to the level we can. If that’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.”
A lot of nights, it’s good enough. The Raptors will look to make sure it’s not one of those nights, securing a winning record on this mini-homestand ahead of a very tough three-game trip that includes a return match with the Pelicans in less than a week.
The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
The big question facing the Raptors until it sorts itself out is just how long they can run a 12-man rotation while keeping everyone in a good rhythm. C.J. Miles conceded yesterday that it can be tough, and while it’s likewise difficult to accept playing fewer minutes and sharing roles in the short-term, some long-term thinking can reveal at least one potential benefit.
“It’s always great,” DeRozan said. “As a competitor you always want to be out there but at the same time you could ask the same question later on during the season and it would be a different answer, understanding that we feel great, now we can play those extended minutes and longer stints in games and feel fresh.”
It’s still probably not helpful to play 12 regularly over a long stretch, but until one of the young players bows out of the rotation with inconsistency or a poor stretch, Casey sounds like he won’t give anyone the hook. As always, it’s “one of them good problems” to have, even if it can be tough to get a real feel for each individual and how the different lineup combinations are working in short-minute samples.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, Bruno Caboclo
As long as the Pelicans are rolling out the league’s highest-scoring and highest-rebounding duo, they’re usual injury report length won’t threaten them too much. Everything starts and ends with Davis, Cousins, and Jrue Holiday, three of the top-six players in the league in minutes played so far. There isn’t great depth with five players on the shelf – you could argue there wasn’t elite depth here even healthy – and so they lean heavily on a star duo and a pretty good third banana.
For context: When Davis and Cousins share the floor, the Pelicans have outscored opponents by 66 points. When only one of them is on, they’ve been outscored by 53, and when neither is on, they’ve been rolled by 12 in 20 minutes.
PG: Jrue Holiday, Jameer Nelson
SG: E’Twaun Moore, Ian Clark
SF: Dante Cunningham, Tony Allen
PF: Anthony Davis, Darius Miller, Josh Smith
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Cheick Diallo
OUT: Rajon Rondo, Frank Jackson, Solomon Hill, Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik
G-League (no affiliate): Charles Cooke, Jalen Jones
- Bruno Caboclo and Alfonzo McKinnie are traveling with Raptors 905 as they head out on a two-game road trip, so neither will be available for garbage time tonight. With the Raptors hitting the road later this weekend and the 905 returning home for a Tuesday morning game, it might be a week before either forward is back on the Raptors’ bench.
- The 905 ended up with 4,776 in attendance for their opener last night.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about all of the 905 roster turnover being a badge of honor of sorts. You can get 20 percent off a subscription here.
- The Raptors have two more at home before hitting the road again for three. Later this month we’re giving away another pair of tickets with InTheActionSeats.com:
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 21, 2017
- The Raptors are holding a design contest where fans can submit gameday graphics the team may use. Details here.
Attn: Designers: We want YOU to design our Game day graphic. Submit using #MyRapsDesign.
1st up 11/12 @ BOS
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 7, 2017
- In Vince Carter’s latest diary at The Undefeated, he wrote about potentially having his jersey retired by the Raptors:
- Of course, I’d like for [the Raptors] to retire my jersey. You’d always like your jersey retired. That is where it’s started. There have been talks about it. People talk about it, and I’m very thankful for it. But for me, I try my best not to think about it because I am still of service in this league. At the end of the day, every player’s end result is to see their jersey hanging in the rafters somewhere. That is where it started. Hopefully I will get that opportunity.
- Thanks to our boy Steven LeBron, Raptors fans can now get Popeyes hooked up if the Raptors hit 10 threes in a game:
— Popeyes Canada (@PopeyesCA) November 9, 2017
The Raptors opened as 5-point favorites, and that line has since bumped to Raptors -5.5. Do they know something about Anthony Davis’ weird streak of sitting in Toronto that we don’t? The over-under has jumped from 214.5 to 216.5.