It’s already been a long day for your boy, so I can only imagine how Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo, and the Air Canada Centre staff feel. The ACC will host it’s second game of the day when the Brooklyn Nets visit the Toronto Raptors, and emotion should be high given a pair of returning players – Luis Scola and Anthony Bennett – will play in Toronto for the first time since departing in the offseason (or a little earlier in Bennett’s case).
Even now that he’s a Brooklyn employee, Scola is still immensely respected in Toronto, and the Raptors’ organization continues to pull for the local product in Bennett.
“He’s a guy that meant a lot to our team last year,” head coach Dwane Casey said about Scola at practice Monday. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Luis. And Anthony, I have empathy for him, a guy that’s trying to make it in the league and has the ability to be an NBA player. He just hasn’t turned the corner yet. Hopefully, Luis can help him.”
Scola is also one of the most beloved teammates the Raptors have lost in recent years, to the point that running into him and Bismack Biyombo in back-to-back games feels at the same time fitting and unfair, from an emotional perspective. That’s a lot of running into exes you still love for one week.
“He’s great. First of all he’s a great dude, a great person,” DeMar DeRozan said of Scola. “He’s one of those teammates who’s whole aura, his vibe on the court is great and it brings the best out of you. For a guy like that, that’s been in the league and been around the block a few times, he brings so much to a team, especially a young team. It’s a cool thing to see him still playing. The old man still has it going.”
The old man does still have it going, though his role has been reduced on a young team focused on developing more inexperienced talent. Scola’s one hell of a mentor to have around, and his ability to play the four or five, hit some threes, crash the glass, and generally do the dirty work still help when he’s called upon.
The game tips off at 7:30 p m. on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
There’s not a ton going on with the Raptors beyond Cory Joseph’s flu, which kept him out of Sunday’s game. Considering VanVleet played earlier today and it’s just an illness, it seems likely that Joseph will play (he was at practice yesterday and shootaround this morning), but check back for an update before tip-off. DeMarre Carroll should suit up, too, in the absence of a back-to-back.
UPDATE: Joseph is good to go.
Meanwhile, Casey continues to hold firm about starting Pascal Siakam over Patrick Patterson, at least in the first half of games. Scola can probably appreciate Siakam’s position. For what it’s worth, Casey not making the change is not just a faith in Siakam but borne of an appreciation for the luxury of Patterson as a bench piece.
“I think he’s fifth or sixth in the NBA in plus-minus. Things change when he comes into the game,” Casey said Monday. “That’s a huge statement for a substitute to be fifth or sixth. That says something right there, the impact he’s having on the game at his position, as a guy coming off the bench and maybe sometimes starting the second half.”
Everyone’s long since dug in on this matter, so we’ll just offer that if Trevor Booker and Luis Scola provide too daunting a matchup for the Siakam-Jonas Valanciunas pairing, it will be concerning. And there’s no safety net, because…
UPDATE II: Patterson is dressed but unlikely to play. He’s dealing with some bumps and bruises and it’s a general maintenance/rest day, something Casey talked about potentially getting guys as the season goes along. That should mean more minutes playing smaller, and therefore additional time for Norman Powell.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson
For what reason Brook Lopez may require rest on a non back-to-back here in December, I have no earthly idea. But the Nets are choosing to rest him, as is their prerogative, and it means the Raptors won’t have to deal with what was easily the toughest part of this matchup. Lopez has killed the Raptors in the past, been a nice challenge for Valanciunas, and generally kept matchups closer than they had much business being. But he’s weary (aren’t we all?), and so he’ll rest. His most effective backup, Justin Hamilton, has missed four games in a row due to migraines and could be unavailable, too.
Casey, though, is hoping that Lopez’s absence won’t be cause for complacency because of the recent lesson learned against Atlanta and applied against Orlando.
“The consistent approach: the physicality, the having someone to feel you, not being this far away from guarding your man,” he said Monday of the defensive turnaround. “All of those things are reminders. Hindsight’s undefeated. Still, to see it, to be embarrassed by it, the way Atlanta did with us, was eye-opening hopefully for our team.”
The absence of Lopez leaves the Nets thin on scoring punch, so look for Sean Kilpatrick to get the ball and the green light. OK, he always has the green light, but it’s gonna be really green this time out. Jeremy Lin generally plays well in Toronto, too, so the Raptors’ not-so-occasional struggles defending at the point of attack will be tested once again. (Lin’s been coming off the bench since returning from injury but could be flipped into the starting lineup at any time.)
UPDATE: Lin is starting, Hamilton is available.
Elsewhere, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should be a nice matchup across from DeRozan on the defensive end. Everyone else is probably at the risk of getting treated like DeRozan has treated most defenders all season long.
PG: Jeremy Lin, Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Randy Foye
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Trevor Booker, Anthony Bennett
C: Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton
Assigned: Chris McCullough
Out: Brook Lopez
- As mentioned, VanVleet and Caboclo both played with Raptors 905 earlier in an ugly blowout loss. Both played 31 minutes and were then recalled, and they’re available.
- I asked VanVleet about owning the league’s best net rating of any player with at least five minutes. He wasn’t having it, as expected. “Is that just because I don’t play at all? I mean, I’ll take it.” VanVleet keeping it exceptionally real at all times is one of my favorite subplots of the 905 season.
- This is it for the Raptors at home for quite some time. They head out on a six-game road trip that extends over Christmas and New Year’s, and their next home game isn’t until Jan. 5.
The Raptors are 15-point favorites, which would seem obscene if they weren’t a) very good, b) now capable of blowing teams out, and c) up against a bad team without their best player. Anything can happen in blowout endgame scenarios, but considering how well the Raptors’ youngsters have played in those situations, coming out with a narrower victory would probably feel like a disappointment. That’s a big spread, though, big enough that it’s probably just best to stay away. I’m also not touching the 223.5 over-under, because who knows if the Nets will be able to score enough to keep the total that high?
Forced to pick, I’ll give the points and take the under, falling victim to my annoying multiples-of-five compulsion. Raptors 115, Nets 95