Most of the basketball world will be tuned in to the fourth meeting between Golden State and San Antonio on Sunday, where the Warriors chase 73-9 and the Spurs have a perfect home record on the line. The diehard of the diehard Toronto Raptors fans, however, will be watching their squad visit the New York Knicks for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off on Sportsnet One. Check out the returning Scott Hastie’s full game preview here.
Hopefully nobody’s expecting a pretty one, but it’s an eminently winnable game for the 53-26 Raptors. And unlike recent matchups, there’s a shred of “this could matter” – while the Raptors’ draft fortune is rooted more heavily in the fortunes of the Denver Nuggets, there are certain lottery scenarios in which it helps the Raptors if both teams are bad (essentially, root against Denver this week, but the Knicks losing isn’t the worst thing, either). At 32-48, the Knicks own the league’s seventh-worst record and are fighting off a trio of teams, including the 33-47 Nuggets, for the seventh-best lottery odds (there’s little chance of the Knicks jumping to sixth).
Depending on your outlook, then, it’s good that Kyle Lowry will be playing instead of resting on Sunday. He’s doing so because…
Delon Wright and Luis Scola did not travel with the team
Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun passes on that Wright and Scola didn’t travel, and that if Wright had been available, Lowry may have sat for rest. But Wright, who turned in the best performance of his career on Friday but suffered a hip pointer along the way, is out, and so the Raptors need Lowry at least for a chunk of the game. This could mean a few minutes for Norman Powell at the one, too, a position he’s defended a fair amount but hasn’t really played at the NBA level yet (he got some run there in the D-League).
Scola, meanwhile, is taking another game off to rest. After averaging 22 minutes without missing an outing in the team’s first 61 games, Scola has taken five days off for rest (two to rest a sore knee, three just for general rest, if I’m remembering right), and has averaged 19.5 minutes in the 14 games he has played in. That’s probably closer to where his minutes will land in the postseason, if they’re even that high (a call that will surely be matchup dependent).
You know who did travel with the team, though?
DeMarre Carroll is expected (by me) to play
Carroll returned Thursday after more than three months on the shelf, looking pretty solid in 14 minutes. We’ll have more on what his return means for this team tomorrow, but for now, it’s all about shaking off some rust in the season’s closing week. The team hasn’t said as much, but playing one game in the Thursday back-to-back, playing Sunday, and then playing one game in the Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back seems a reasonable approach.
Carroll said Friday that he’s hoping to play 25 to 30 minutes in the playoffs, but that might be a little on the high end for an opening round series. Powell’s play has been strong enough that the team can exercise caution with Carroll, either starting him for brief stints opposite a Paul George type or bringing him off the bench to better monitor his workload.
Carroll also acknowledged Friday that Carmelo Anthony would be a nice test defensively, if Carroll were to play, though I stupidly left the audio elsewhere and don’t have it handy to transcribe the full quote. Essentially, he got a few reps on Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap, but the Nets and Sixers won’t provide much of a challenge (my words, not his), and so Anthony’s his last real “test” against the type of player he’s been brought in to guard. Carroll was absent for all three of the team’s previous meetings with the Knicks.
UPDATE: Wolstat says Carroll will play.
With Scola and Wright out and assuming Carroll plays, that really just leaves us with the Bruno Caboclo watch.
PG: Lowry, Cory Joseph
SG: Powell, T.J. Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan, Carroll, James Johnson, Caboclo
PF: Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira
I’d expect to see Nogueira get a little run for a third consecutive game here – the team appears to have a quiet edict to limit Valanciunas and Biyombo, and that makes sense from a rest perspective and because Nogueira could have utility in certain playoff matchups. His five-minute stint against Atlanta was pretty solid, and while he was quiet in 11 minutes against Indiana, he played mostly mistake-free.
Who hates fun? The Knicks hate fun. And so rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis will sit out the team’s final home game of the season with a shoulder injury. It’ll be the sixth game in a row he’s missed, a disappointing end to a really fun year.
Jose Calderon (quad) is questionable and Tony Wroten (knee) and Lance Thomas (knee) are done for the year. That leaves the rotation looking something like this:
PG: Jerian Grant, (Calderon), Langston Galloway
SG: Sasha Vujacic, Arron Afflalo
SF: Anthony, Cleanthony Early
PF: Derrick Williams, Lou Amundson
C: Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites, a swing from Raptors -5 to open, likely because of the news that Lowry will play. The Knicks have no business winning this one unless something changes on Toronto’s end, and New York’s only managed to win two of their last seven (games against Philly and Brooklyn). Shout out to the Knicks for beating the Bulls back-to-back a few weeks ago, though. Bye, Felicio.
Raptors 102, Knicks 91.