Gameday: Hawks @ Raptors, March 30

Will Lowry play? Do the Raptors stand a chance if he doesn't?

The Toronto Raptors are set to play host to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, with Mike Budenolzer’s surging outfit swooping in for a 7:30 start on TSN.

The last time the Raptors saw the Hawks, Toronto turned in an incredibly encouraging performance. After some recent defensive malaise, the Raptors found a footing and rediscovered their top gear in a prodding 104-96 victory. Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas hit the offensive glass enough to help make up the difference that Atlanta’s stretchier frontcourt otherwise would have provided, Norman Powell did a terrific job chasing Kyle Korver around, and DeMar DeRozan cruised to 30 points while the Hawks shuffled wing defenders to try to stop him.

It was a really good showing, an exact blueprint on how the Raptors would need to play the Hawks if the two sides met in a playoff series, a draw I was and remain afraid of.

There’s no longer any chance of that happening in round one, because the Hawks have long since ensured they’re not falling anywhere near the seven-seed. The loss at home to Toronto was just Atlanta’s second in a seven-game stretch, and they responded by railing off five wins in a row and nine in 10 games. The Hawks are now 14-3 in their last 17, clinching a playoff spot as they’ve pushed to third in the Eastern Conference. They’ve pushed back to 14th in the league in offense and have held steady as its No. 2-ranked defense.

They are, in a word, terrifying right now. So it’s a positive that there’s no chance that the Raptors see them to open the playoffs. They can cut this play out any time after, though, because this Hawks squad, playing like they currently are, could be a buzzsaw in the playoffs. They’re remarkable defensively and have figured out just enough on offense to let their defense carry them, and the Paul Millsap-Al Horford pairing is a tough one to gameplan for.

As for Wednesday, well, the game doesn’t matter to Toronto, which is good, I guess. It doesn’t matter, for one, because the Raptors are more or less locked into the two-seed. The franchise’s first 50-win season hangs over the game once again, but with so many chances left to hit that mark, there’s no real sense of urgency. It also doesn’t matter a great deal because there’s a much more pressing matter weighing on Toronto right now.

The health of Kyle Lowry.

Lowry had his right elbow drained following Monday’s loss to Oklahoma City, which you can read all about here. I won’t rehash that article except to iterate that I see no reason why Lowry would play Wednesday. He and head coach Dwane Casey claim there’s no reason to rest what sounds like elbow bursitis, but there absolutely is – he can’t make the injury worse necessarily, but banging it and playing with it can prevent the issue from subsiding. He’s been laboring the last four games he appeared in and reportedly looked uncomfortable immediately after draining Monday, and there’s just no reason to ask him to play through it or slow healing even the slightest of margins.

Also on the shelf is Terrence Ross, who has now missed three games with a sore thumb. He missed two weeks earlier in the season with a ligament issue in that same thumb, so the longer this absence extends, the more worrisome it becomes. There’s no official status on Ross, but he can probably be considered a game-time decision once again. Like with Lowry, there’s little reason to rush him back if jamming the thumb could cause further issue, but the team’s been so quiet about what’s actually going on that it’s difficult to figure.

DeMarre Carroll is or was in Atlanta for personal reasons and may or may not be back with the team this week and may or may not be back on the floor this season, and I really can’t do this every game. We’ve got your Carroll grief covered here. Michael Grange of Sportsnet reported this morning that Carroll is expected to resume on-court activity as early as today and that there remains optimism he can be back by the end of the season, so, there’s that.

The Raptors could be shorthanded. Which would be fine, because again, getting those guys to the playoffs at full health is the most important goal down the stretch.

The most important goal for Wednesday isn’t even necessarily a win – it’s getting Bismack Biyombo rebounds.

Valanciunas played well against the Hawks last time out, but I’m very much here for another 25-rebound Biyombo game given the charitable contributions on the line.

Raptors updates
You got it all above, and I believe Bruno Caboclo is still with Raptors 905 in Grand Rapids. The rotation will look something like this:

PG: (Lowry), Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
SG: Powell, (Ross)
SF: DeRozan, James Johnson
PF: Scola, Patrick Patterson, Jason Thompson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

Maybe with that depth chart the Raptors can counter the Hawks’ five-out by going super-big. Bebe at the three and Patterson at the two, anyone? Let’s get weird if Lowry sits. (I need the playoffs to start.)

Hawks updates
Thabo Sefolosha (ankle) is expected to be available. Tiago Splitter (hip) remains out. Lamar Patterson and Walter Taveras are in the D-League. So the rotation looks something like this:

PG: Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder, Kirk Hinrich
SG: Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Kent Bazemore, Sefolosha
PF: Millsap, Mike Scott, Mike Muscala
C: Horford, Kris Humphries

The line
The Raptors are 1.5-point favorites, which seems to be a pretty big vote of confidence in the health of Lowry from the market. These teams feel more or less even when at full strength, and the Raptors aren’t that. I’ll withhold a prediction until we know if Lowry and Ross are playing, but I’d be pretty disappointed if Lowry gives it a go. And if he doesn’t, these Hawks are too hot to pick against.

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