When the 2001-02 Toronto Raptors set the franchise record for consecutive wins, they did so without their best player, Vince Carter. That team reeled off nine in a row, a record that stands to this day but was tied on Tuesday when the 2015-16 edition of the team won a ninth straight, too. History may repeat itself in a sort of twisted way, as these Raptors may be faced with breaking the mark Thursday without the services of their best player.
Kyle Lowry is questionable for Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks due to the sprained left wrist he suffered near the end of Tuesday’s game. The two-time Eastern Conference All-Star starting point guard sat out Wednesday’s practice because he was still sore and the team seems unlikely to push the issue if that’s still the case Thursday.
The injury occurred with roughly 3:42 to play in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards when Lowry was caught on a Marcin Gortat screen. Jonas Valanciunas, who was doing a bit of ball-watching with the action up top, seemingly failed to call out the screen, and Lowry hit it hard as he tried to chase Gary Neal around it. Not only did Lowry hit the screen hard, but Neal blew through his left arm, leading to a bit of hyperextension.
Upon closer inspection, Neal may or may not have made the issue worst by grabbing Lowry’s arm, though it could just be an unfavorable screencap.
Post-game X-rays came back negative with Lowry saying “I’m fine,” but he admitted he wouldn’t disclose to the media if he were hurt, anyway.
The fact that the Raptors initially opted to assign Delon Wright to Raptors 905 of the D-League only to recall him an hour before Wednesday’s tip-off suggests that Lowry’s status changed over night, or at least that he woke up more sore than anticipated. The Raptors probably didn’t want to practice with just one point guard or risk Wright getting injured in D-League action, so the move makes sense.
If Lowry can’t play Thursday, Wright would stand to see at least a bit of playing time. He’s only played _ minutes at the NBA level this season but has impressed on the offensive end in 12 D-League contests. He’s averaging 18 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.7 steals while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent on threes, looking poised and polished running the offense. He’s still struggling with his pick-and-roll defense some and can fall into stretches of passiveness, but for the most part his play has been encouraging.
“Yes, I think he would,” 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys said Wednesday of Wright potentially being able to fill in. “His demeanor and his sort of things that aren’t coachable, the intangibles he just naturally has, makes that less of a…you’re not really throwing this guy out there that has no poise to him. He kind of instinctively has some poise. So I think he’d be able to handle that. I’m sure that other teams would try to go at him and maybe take advantage of that but because of his size, his length, I think he’d be able to hold down the fort.”
A Lowry absence would also mean starters minutes for Cory Joseph and perhaps Norman Powell. Joseph has bounced back from a down couple of games and has generally been solid this season, averaging 8.4 points and three assists in 25 minutes while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor. He’s also a plus-defender, often providing a reprieve for Lowry against quicker guards and making it impossible for opposing players to take advantage of anything but the tightest screens. Powell is playing well in D-League action but hasn’t gotten much NBA run, even with DeMarre Carroll sidelined. The removal of the option to roll with two point guards theoretically opens up wing minutes he could take.
In any case, the Raptors would be at a huge loss without Lowry. He’s averaging 20.9 points, five rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.2 steals while hitting 38.8 percent of his threes and posting a 57.5 true-shooting percentage, all while playing 36.5 minutes per-night. The Raptors outscore opponents by 6.7 points per-100 possessions (PPC) when he’s on the floor and are outscored by 2.4 PPC when he hits the bench, owing in part to him helping prop up the bench for long stretches (Lowry and the four primary reserves are a plus-32.6 PPC in 116 minutes on the year). Meanwhile, the Joseph-and-starters group has played just 17 minutes together, though they’ve been effective in that time (plus-18.3 PPC).
Even with the loss Lowry represents, the Raptors are best served practicing patience. Lowry ranks sixth in the NBA in total minutes played and there’s a strong case to be made for getting him rest here and there as the schedule allows, anyway. If a minor injury is the impetus for some additional time off, then it may not be the worst thing in the world, given an 82-game outlook. Sure, playing without him when the team has an opportunity to make franchise history would be a mild disappointment, but head coach Dwane Casey has been leaning on him too much, as is, and very nearly got burned for having Lowry on the floor in the closing minutes of a 17-point game Tuesday. There are understandable reasons Casey has rode Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so hard, and perhaps this is stretching for a silver lining. It’s just not the worst thing if Lowry sits, so long as it doesn’t signal any more serious issue.
The Knicks, by the way, could be without Carmelo Anthony, too. Anthony sat Tuesday due to knee soreness, and while he’s expected to travel with the team to Toronto, that may only mean he wants to come get drunk and punch out a member of his own training staff. (Or is that just injured Clippers?)