The Toronto Raptors have won three games in a row. In each, they’ve stormed back from a double-digit deficit. In each, they were sparked by someone who wouldn’t have figured to be an important piece at the start of the season: Delon Wright, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka. Sure, Kyle Lowry was amazing against Charlotte and DeMar DeRozan has been terrific in two games since the All-Star break, but the Raptors getting contributions from unexpected players – depth pieces or deadline acquisitions – is enormous.
It’s also helped create a modicum of momentum, if such a thing exists. After weeks of playing poorly and failing to put together multiple good games in a row, the Raptors are still failing to play 48 strong minutes, but their constitution appears to be changing. They’re defending better for long stretches. They’re sharing the ball more. They’re communicating. There’s a genuine sense that the Raptors are rediscovering their footing. Things are coming around.
All of that is tenuous, though, especially in the wake of the news that Lowry is undergoing surgery and may not return until the postseason.
An ugly loss to a struggling New York Knicks team would probably threaten those good vibes and positive energy. Another win – a fourth in a row – ahead of an important couple of days in the schedule would be a major positive for the team. That the Knicks are their usual tire-fire selves is beneficial for Toronto, but not an occasion to turn in one of their customary 24-minute performances. If the Raptors want to continue to ride this momentum, they need to come out against a weakened opponent and go for the throat out of the gate. You know, P.J. Tucker on these dudes.
The game tips off at 7 on TSN 1/3/4 and TSN 1050. You can check out the preview here.
Raptors updates & Ujiri conference call
The obvious question hanging over the Raptors is how they can cope without Lowry. The team is surprisingly now 3-0 on the season when Lowry sits, a testament to how well DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph, and others have stepped up with the Queen Bee out, but that record is probably not going to remain undefeated. Following the news of Lowry’s surgery and timeline, Raptors president Masai Ujiri spoke to media on a conference call Monday afternoon.
Among the highlights:
- Nobody is upset with Lowry, and Ujiri said “there are no bad optics here.” Ujiri defended Lowry playing in All-Star activities and was firm that injuries like this are difficult because sometimes pain just goes away, and sometimes it doesn’t. (Plus, Lowry didn’t make things any worse.) Ujiri also shared that the organization was optimistic yesterday because Lowry woke up and swelling had gone down, but it returned today, showing how fickle things can be.
- “Honestly, I disagree. I don’t think there’s any bad optics here. If you look at the history of this kind of injury, players sometimes feel pain and sometimes they don’t feel pain…I don’t think it should be questioned…I don’t think Kyle will look at that and say ‘Hey, I put myself in this position.'”
- That re-swelling lead in part to Lowry undergoing further testing in New York today, and the collaborative decision was made to undergo surgery now rather than wait and treat symptomatically to give Lowry a chance to returning in time for the playoffs. The goal for the team appears to be maintaining a top-four seed in his stead.
- “It’s a little disappointing for us. But we’re also lucky…try to get ahead of it and hopefully it’s a good time for it where he has the surgery tomorrow and we see how it goes. When you lose a player like that for a certain amount of time – Kyle is an All-Star player, he leads our team in minutes, he leads our team in a lot of things – there’s always going to be some sort of disappointment there. The team goes on, and we’ll play our best and hold home court until he gets back.”
- Until then, the Raptors believe they have enough in-house. As of right now, they’re not in the market for additional help at point guard, with Ujiri saying the team believes in their trio of healthy ones.
- “The way we are looking at it right now is no. I think we have to give the point guards we have the experience to grow, to build, and to be ready for what’s coming. We’re going to discuss some more, but off the top of my head now, I’d say no. I think Cory and Delon and Fred have been capable. We believe in them, and we’ll go from there.”
- As for the timeline, Ujiri offered nothing we didn’t already know. The surgery isn’t until tomorrow, at which point a timeline might be more clear.
There’s a fairly clear idea of how the rotation is going to work without Lowry now. There’s a heavy weight on Joseph and Delon Wright, and the world is on DeRozan’s shoulders. Strategically, the Raptors have downsized more than expected late in games, and so they could continue with a full 10-man rotation, or tighten it to nine with Lucas Nogueira being the odd man out. Jonas Valanciunas, meanwhile, will continue to be used as matchups dictate, but it would seem that any chance of him closing out games is out the window, if it wasn’t already (his offensive role should grow with Lowry out, at least). The Raptors simply have too many options that can increase the defensive flexibility without sacrificing much on offense to force anything. They’re more adaptable now, and Serge Ibaka figures to be the closing center more often than not.
PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carrol, P.J. Tucker
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
OUT: Kyle Lowry
The Knicks certainly have a lot going on. The first news from Monday came down early, with the Knicks recalling a trio of players from Westchester. That would, umm, be the smallest of news. They followed that up by waiving Brandon Jennings in a pretty surprising move, clearing him to land with a playoff competitor and using his roster spot to sign Chasson Randle. Randle was an offseason signing of the Knicks, one Carmelo Anthony was high on, but he fractured his orbital wall, was waived, and then landed with the 76ers, who subsequently waived him. And then to top it all off, news broke that Joakim Noah will miss the remainder of the season following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Oh, and Kristaps Porzingis is unlikely to play due to an ankle sprain, per Ian Begley. He sat out Saturday, and while he avoided ligament damage – a concern when he was initially hurt Thursday – the expectation was that he’d miss a few games. It would seem unlikely that Porzingis will go, given how little incentive the Knicks have to push things, but it would at least make things more interesting. He’s a treat to watch, and he sat out when the Knicks last visited the Raptors, too. Most nights, I’d want to watch Porzinigs. Right now, with Lowry up in the air and a home-and-home upcoming with Washington, I’ll take a better chance at a fourth consecutive victory. Apologies to my usual competitive spirit.
Check back for an update on Porzingis closer to tip-off. UPDATE: Porzingis is out.
PG: Derrick Rose, Ron Baker, Chasson Randle
SG: Courtney Lee, Justin Holiday, Sash Vujacic
SF: Carmelo Anthony, Mindaugus Kuzminskas
PF: Lance Thomas, Maurice Ndour
C: Willy Hernangomez, Kyle O’Quinn, Marshall Plumlee
OUT: Joakim Noah, Kristaps Porzingis
- Bruno Caboclo was assigned to Raptors 905 and did not travel with the Raptors to New York. The 905 have a home game Monday, and they’ll hit the road for a few games afterward. It seems likely that Caboclo will stay with the D-League squad for their trip. The plan may have called for Fred VanVleet to go, too, but the injury to Lowry leaves the parent club in need of a third point guard for depth. If VanVleet winds up assigned Tuesday or Wednesday, it would be a positive sign about the status of Lowry’s wrist.
- Also in 905 news, tonight is Filipino Heritage Night at Hershey Centre. Rise Tribe will be there to host the inaugural event, and fans will received some pretty cool shirts. As always, you can use the promo code REPUBLIC905 for a discount on tickets.
- DeMar DeRozan is the guest on the latest Lowe Post podcast. Does that sound like something you would want to listen to? Because it’s absolutely something you want to listen to.
The Raptors are 3-point favorites, up from an opening line of Raptors -2.5. That might seem low given that the Knicks, at 24-35, continue Knicksing, but the Raptors are on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, and could be without one of their two All-Stars. You have to like Toronto’s chances regardless, and I think I’d lean under with the over-under at 213 and the Raptors showing signs of defensive life (even if their defensive rating the last two games hasn’t matched the observable quality of their defense for stretches).