There are so many storylines for this game it’s really difficult to choose just one.
There is, of course, the winning streak. The Raptors have matched the longest winning streak in the short history of the franchise and are endeavouring to set a franchise record in this game. This core has set a few franchise records over the last couple of years, it would be nice to see them add another to the list.
The game is also a rare non-NBA TV American national television appearance for the Raptors. Even though all-star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are becoming household names, the Raptors as a whole get precious little respect and recognition from the basketball world south of the border. A strong national TV showing can help with optics and reputation and aid the Raptors in their ongoing attempts to build the brand of the franchise outside of Canada.
Finally, this is a revenge game for the Raptors. They lost a close game to the Knicks in November thanks in part to a controversial out of bounds non-call that the league late confirmed should have resulted in the ball being returned to the Raptors. There have been comments made by players this year which indicate that they are out for revenge, beating the Knicks on national TV after feeling like they had a victory stolen from them by the refs provides them with yet another opportunity for payback. I have absolutely nothing to back this up but I have a very strong feeling that DeRozan and Lowry relish these opportunities to settle scores and prove critics wrong and this game allows them to do that on a few different levels.
During the Casey-Lowry-DeRozan-Valanciunas era the Raptors are 7-6 against the Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks with total margin of victory of +26. Even in seasons like this one where the teams do not seem to be an even match they still manage to deliver close, exciting games.
The stars for both teams are questionable for the game. The Knicks’ leading scorer Carmelo Anthony is suffering from a sprain to his surgically repaired knee that is not bad enough to keep him from traveling with the team but is hurting enough to keep him listed as day to day. Kyle Lowry injured his wrist late in the Raptors last game against the Washington Wizards. He says it feels fine and the team has reported that the x-rays came back negative but he didn’t practice yesterday and the team was concerned enough to call up Delon Wright from Raptors905 an hour before their game was scheduled to tip off. DeMarre Carroll is still out.
Player to Watch:
I thought I was going to able to get through this entire post without singing the praises of Kristaps Porzingis but I just can’t do it. He’s far from a finished product and can be very inconsistent but he’s proven to be a one-man highlight film. If you fall asleep on defense he can pull up from Steph Curry range or go over top of you for one of his monstrous putback dunks. If you don’t drive to the rim with force he’ll probably swat your shot away so casually that it will make you question why you even bothered trying in the first place. I know it’s probably bad taste to fawn over an opposing player like this but it’s unavoidable: if you don’t like Porzingis I don’t understand why you even watch basketball.
Best Case Scenario:
Another back-and-forth game that goes down to the wire but is decided by the players instead of the refs.
Worst Case Scenario:
Melo and DeRozan engage in a hero-ball battle of wills and turn what should be an exciting game with a lot at stake for both teams into an unwatchable mess.
Keys to the Game:
- Attentive defense. The Knicks triangle offense is very heavy on backdoor cuts and off ball screens and several players in the Raptors rotation have a tendency to ball watch – this could be a recipe for disaster. The triangle can be a complicated offense but at its core it is an isolation/post offense with cutters looking for backdoor layups and finding gaps for spot up jumpers and the Knicks will beat you for easy buckets if you let your mind wander. Derrick Williams has managed to turn himself into a potent bench player because of his ability to take advantage of napping defenses and his likely matchups are going to be some of the Raptors worst offenders in this department.
- Attacking on offense. This one can probably just be copied and pasted into every pregame post because the Raptors offense completely falls apart if they’re not getting into the paint. In this particular matchup the Raptors should have little trouble getting their guards inside against the likes of Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo, both of whom try hard but lack the footspeed necessary to keep up with the Raptors guards when coming off of screens.
- Don’t overplay Carmelo Anthony(if he even plays). The Knicks watching Melo score is much better for the Raptors than the Knicks being hit for open layups and jumpers by Melo, who has shown himself to be a more willing passer this year. If he gets hot it’s important to stay disciplined and patient and trust the defense instead of throwing the house at him to slow him down, which will only let the complimentary pieces bury the Raptors, especially when he’s posting up. Three pointers off of interior passing are among the most efficient shots available in the NBA so it’s important to keep those to a minimum.
This game is a matchup of contrasting styles. The Raptors have a slashing, guard-oriented offensive attack while the Knicks triangle offense relies heavily on the post play of their forwards supplemented with a lot of passing and cutting. The Raptors get almost all of their offensive production from their starting 5, the Knicks have one of the most productive benches in the league but inconsistent offensive output from their starters. The Raptors are a defense-first team while the Knicks obvious strength is the potency of the triangle when everything is clicking. Even taking it as far as historical context this is one of the oldest basketball franchises in the league against one of the newest. From roster makeup to style of play to overarching philosophies governing how the franchises operate everything that is true of one team seems to flipped around on the other. It’s usually made for some compelling basketball and I’m sure that this game will be no different.
I called it on the podcast earlier and I’ll stick with it: the Raptors streak continues as long as they’re at home. The Raptors don’t give the referees a chance to decide the game in the closing minutes and win convincingly.