This is it. Finally, at long last, the biggest return to the Air Canada Centre this week: Jose Calderon. (And Jesse Mermuys!)
Everyone’s favorite former Toronto Raptors is back, carrying the same sort of up-beat, infectious, positive energy that made him a top-flight teammate and one of the most beloved players in franchise history over his seven-plus seasons here. How much did people enjoy Calderon? Well, I had a dog for two or three years that I named Jose, and the special Spanish edition of the Raptors jersey ranks among my worst jersey purchases. He’s also a favorite of DeMar DeRozan and Dwane Casey, and understandably so.
The franchise, however, never seemed as sold as Calderon on the court as off of it. My formative blogging years were mostly spent arguing that Calderon should be starting over a never-ending stream of intended replacement options, the front office never quite convinced that Calderon was the guy. Seriously, Calderon’s kill sheet on the depth chart is the stuff of legend.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 14, 2016
Yet Calderon continued to outlast just about everyone, enough to rank first in franchise history in assists, third in games played, seventh in scoring, eighth in true-shooting percentage (minimum 1,000 minutes played), third in Win Shares, first in smiles given and smiles created. He is among my favorite players ever, and it’ll be great to see him get what might be a final warm reception at the ACC. (Calderon is 35 and in the final year of his contract, and while a team may very well value his veteran leadership and outside shooting, his role has decreased significantly thanks in part to his limited defensive utility.) In any case, I’d expect a nice ovation for our erstwhile handsome point guard.
The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 4&5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
DeMarre Carroll will sit the first head of this back-to-back, but figuring out which is a little difficult. The Hawks are a better team, thought I thought the Lakers presented a more Carroll-friendly matchup in Luol Deng (whereas benching Carroll on Saturday would have tasked Norman Powell with chasing Kyle Korver through an endless forest of screens, something he did well with last year). The difference between sitting Carroll for Friday or Saturday was minimal, and the plan calls for him to continue sitting one leg of each back-to-back at least until the new year. It’s all to be expected at this point, beyond the occasional coin-flips guessing which game he’ll rest.
As for the assignees, Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet, both were recalled on Friday after another game with the 905 on Thursday. I expected VanVleet to rejoin the Raptors rather than traveling with the junior club, but Caboclo missing at least the first of their three-game trip is a little surprising.
Elsewhere, the Lakers don’t present too tough an option at the center position with Timofey Mozgov, who is a nice matchup, stylistically, for Jonas Valanciunas. The Lakers can go small, too, though, and lineups with Larry Nance Jr. (I DIDN’T JUST COME HERE TO NANCE) have been fun and effective. Nance and Julius Randle are also tough challenges at the power forward spot. Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson also present some challenges on the glass, so don’t be fooled by the lack of reknowed star value in the frontcourt outside of Randle.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terrence Ross
SF: DeMar DeRozan, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, DeMarre Carroll
The Lakers are missing perhaps their two best players so far this season, and I don’t say that jokingly – D’Angelo Russell is out, sure, but so is Nick Young, who is playing by far the best all-around basketball of his career. I caught up with former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys, now an assistant with the Lakers, last night, and he raved about Young’s progress on the defensive end. The perpeutal looter in the riot, Young’s taken on Luke Walton’s challenge to contribute beyond chucking, and he’s responded with quality man defense (the dude guarded a Russell Westbrook post-up effectively!), plus the most efficient scoring of his career. But he’s out with a calf issue, and so the Lakers are down two of their better shot-creators.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t threats here, though. Jordan Clarkson has established himself as a quality scorer, and he and Lou Williams create a formdiable duo off the bench. Rookie Brandon Ingram, who took in the 905 game last night and whom Jerry Stackhouse refered to as the most “ego-less” player in the first round (with Jakob Poeltl), appears to be figuring it out, even if the shooting percentages aren’t quit there yet (I’m a huge fan of his potential long-term). And then there’s Randle, who’s emerging as a fun throwback the Lakers can run the offense through thanks to the attention he commands inside and his passing ability.
The biggest weak-spot for the Lakers comes on the defensive end, where they rank 27th. Normally, Luol Deng would stand as the obvious choice to guard DeMar DeRozan, but Deng’s been something close to woeful this season, and the Raptors can get aggressive helping off of him to trap Randle on the baseline on post-ups or to send additional help toward the paint on drives. The Lakers can switch a lot off the ball if any three of Clarkson, Ingram, Deng, World Peace, and maybe even Nance are on the floor together, but they don’t have enough individual defenders to hang over 48 minutes.
PG: Jose Calderon, Jordan Clarkson, Marcelo Huertas
SG: Brandon Ingram, Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng, Metta World Peace
PF: Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Thomas Robinson
C: Timofey Mozgov, Tarik Black
ASSIGNED: Ivica Zubac
OUT: Nick Young, D’Angelo Russell
- I didn’t think it warranted its own post, but DeMar DeRozan was given an honorable mention for Eastern Conference Player of the Month yesterday. LeBron James, averaging nearly a triple-double for a 13-3 team, took the award home (his fourth in a row), so it’s tough to get too bothered, even with the terrific month DeRozan turned in. I saw a few people mad online about it, but we’re talking 28.9-5.5-4.2-1.3-0.1 on 57 TS% at 12-6 or 23.5-8.1-9.3-1.1-0.5 on 58.6 TS% at 13-3 (13-2 with him in the lineup)…I find it very difficult to get too worked up here.
- I wrote about Terrence Ross’ improvements and the search for consistency for The Athletic today. There’s a great, illuminating quote from Jerry Stackhouse within.
- Not to get too insider or anything, but based on some chatter, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers come out a little slow in this one. If you catch me.
- Looking ahead, Paul Millsap is out for the Hawks tomorrow.
- The Raptors’ game notes say this is their first home-home back-to-back since 2008, but my own research says differently:
Was asked about odd home-home back-to-back Raptors have Fri-Sat. Went back and looked – it’s the first they’ve had since Feb 14-15, 2012.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 1, 2016
The Raptors are nine-point favorites, which seems reasonable given how banged-up the Lakers are and the general gap between these two teams. The Lakers are fun, plucky, and play really hard for Walton and company, though, so this is another case like the Grizzlies game where the Raptors won’t be able to just go on auto-pilot and play sloppy. It was almost the third consecutive game they’ve been a double-digit favorite in, which would have likely been the first time in several years that happened, but the line has edged L.A.’s way since opening around Raptors -10. I think the Raptors manage to cover despite a big game from Nance and the Lakers pushing the pace.
Raptors 112, Lakers 101