After the home opener this season against the Pacers on October 28th, the Raptors embarked on a 14 game stretch that would feature 11 road games. The Road Warrior Raptors now head into Sacramento to kick off a 5-game road trip, coming off of back-to-back wins against the lowly Sixers in Philly, and at home against a pesky Pelicans squad who played without the services of their franchise player. Thank goodness.
And while the 7-3 Raptors have a respectable record thus far this season, the mark of this team has been inconsistency, especially from the bench and with offensive execution. With a minor shuffle in the starting lineup, wins against the Mavericks and Thunder on the road, followed by confusing losses against the Magic, Heat and Knicks, these early season impressions may really not be indicative of this team’s true “mean”, which may take a month or two at least for them to regress toward.
The road grind continues tonight in Sacramento, against a rallying Kings squad who after starting the season 1-7, have now won 2 straight home games against the Pistons and Nets.
The George Karl Era Isn’t Over…For now.
The Kings started with 7 of their first 9 games at home, and after holding a highly publicized players-only team meeting the day after that 7th loss, the Kings seem to have turned somewhat of a corner. Yes, games against the Pistons and Nets at home helped, but in a meeting where Kings’ GM Vlade Divac reportedly openly asked his players if George Karl should be kept on as coach of the team, it was clear that some frustration was let out. And creating that open forum may have been just what the Kings team needed – a team that is clearly talented, but coming into the season, had serious questions around coaching stability and their star big-man DeMarcus Cousins, who clearly wasn’t on the same page as Coach Karl.
After all that, Coach George Karl looked like a sure bet to be gone in the next month. But somehow, a couple of wins later, and after a sudden endorsement from Cousins, Vlade Divac has confirmed that Karl’s job is not in jeopardy. With the Western Conference as tough as it is, the last thing the Kings need is another distraction to make things more difficult. And now, with at least some stability and momentum, this game is going to be way tougher for Toronto than Sacramento’s 3-7 record may indicate. Let’s be real folks – this team is pretty damn talented, and in those losses, have lost to the likes of the Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Warriors and Spurs (likely all playoff teams in the West).
DeMarcus Cousins – Mama there goes that man
In their most recent game, the Kings squeaked one out against a desperate Brooklyn Nets team searching for their second win of the season. And DeMarcus Cousins had a monstrous outing, shooting 13-27 from the field, dropping 40 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. After going 1-10 in the first half, Cousins owned the Nets in the second half, scoring from all over the court including 2 silky smooth threes.
So for the fans who remember the forgettable outing in Miami last week, you’ll remember that the perimeter defense against Bosh was disgraceful. While Luis Scola offers some stability offensively at the 4 while Patterson comes off of the bench, matching up against Cousins 10+ feet out will be a challenge to the say the least for Scola, and so how Dwane Casey decides to play Cousins defensively will likely be the story of the game. DeMarre Carroll maybe? Patterson? Dare I say Anthony Bennett? Someone’s got to have an answer for us to have a chance.
Kyle Lowry could very well have a monster game offensively, but playing defensively against the always-slick Rajon Rondo will be a challenge as well. A triple-double specialist, Rondo scored 23, dropped 14 dimes and had 10 rebounds against those Brooklyn Nets on Friday. Look out.
Things to Watch For
Jonas Valanciunas has had a stellar start to the season and now up against a rookie in Willie Cauley-Stein, look for JV to continue to assert himself. We’ve come to expect 14 and 10 a night from JV, and should things go accordingly to plan, JV will probably be able to score, but may not be able to clean the glass as effectively going up against Cousins. If things don’t go as planned, look for Casey to go to Biyombo.
DeMar DeRozan either passes or scores. Coming off of an 11-assist game, DeMar knows that scoring and getting fouled aren’t the only ways he can contribute to the offense. While playing against James Anderson and/or Caron Butler, neither of whom have caused DeRozan any real trouble in the past, is encouraging, look for DeMar to pass the rock if shots aren’t falling.
The 3 is the key. With a slow start from beyond-the-arc against the Pelicans in the first half on Friday night, the Raptors exploded in the second half going 7-11 from 3 and never looking back. While shooting may not travel for everyone, the Raps will need at least someone from the group of Lowry, Carroll, Patterson (and even Scola) to step up and hit some 3s.
Playing in Sacramento has always been a challenge for the Raptors, regardless of the talent level that the Kings throw out. Likely due to the arena atmosphere or fatigue during long road trips, the Raptors have always been quick in going to their bench when things don’t start well, and tonight should be the same. Look for Dwane Casey to quickly go to Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and/or James Johnson if we get off to a slow start.
The Raps have been inconsistent, and the Kings are desperate to keep their winning ways alive and establish some stability. I’ll take the Raps to squeak this one out, but it’s going to be a tough one to say the least.