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Pre-game news & notes: Carroll returns, Lowry progressing

It’s a big night in the Eastern Conference, and suddenly a big weekend. With Kyle Lowry on the shelf in Toronto, the Wizards are dealing with a banged-up John Wall, and Isaiah Thomas will miss both of Boston’s weekend games against dregs due to a bone bruise in his knee. Meanwhile, the Hawks and Cavaliers are hosting tough Western Conference teams tonight, and the Raptors host one themselves in the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s perhaps still a little too early to be working through seeding iterations, but with only two or three games separating each team and the field taking some shape (the season-ending injury to Dwyane Wade in Chicago may cut the potential playoff pool in the East to nine), every game feels like it matters a great deal. Win Thursday and see Atlanta lose, and the Raptors are suddenly back to a three-game cushion for home court in the first round. Take two of three on this three-in-four-nights stretch, and they might gain a crucial half-game (or more) on the two teams ahead of them. Drop two of three, and things look much different heading into a lighter part of the schedule.

All of that is to say, there are no nights off any longer, if there ever were. Everything matters with injuries and shaky play conspiring to threaten the Raptors’ playoff hopes by way of a record below expectations. Even without Kyle Lowry, the Raptors – who are 6-4 without him since the break and 7-4 overall – can’t afford a slump, or to give anything but their best. We’ve seen them at 70 percent or so at times lately, and it’s not enough. Against The Russell Westbrook NBA Death Machine, they’ll have to come out swinging.

The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
Most of the attention before the game was on Westbrook’s MVP candidacy and Serge Ibaka playing against his old team. The Raptors news was a little lighter, although there were some minor updates on the team’s two injured players.

Kyle Lowry was in New York for a check-up on his right wrist yesterday, and everything is progressing as expected. Everything “is where it should be,” according to head coach Dwane Casey, but there remains no timetable for his return. Lowry underwent surgery on Feb. 28, and the optimistic timetable had him back in four-to-five weeks. We should get an update this coming week on any progression to shooting, which is the big hurdle to clear from here.

DeMarre Carroll has been dealing with a sore left ankle, and he’ll return and start tonight. Carroll missed a game, returned for one, then missed two, and he was a participant in practice Wednesday. Once he felt good following that session, he got the OK to return here. Norman Powell returns to a bench role and will resume battling with P.J. Tucker for the right to be the first wing off the bench. It’s worth noting that Casey mentioned Powell as a potential option on Russell Westbrook tonight.

PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
OUT: Kyle Lowry

Thunder updates
The Thunder enter in good health, though they’re still figuring out some of the specifics of their rotation following the trade deadline acquisition of Perpetually Almost Raptor Taj Gibson and Oh God Not Doug McDermott. Needless to say, history would suggest that those two ex-Bulls will be the biggest non-Westbrook factors the Raptors have to worry about.

It all starts and ends with Westbrook, though, who should meet a forest of bodies if he beats the point of attack, with the Raptors daring OKC’s suddenly solid corps of shooters and role players to beat them. Toronto’s done decent against singularly dominant scorers at times, but Westbrook may be the league’s biggest non-LeBron James force right now. That could go two ways – throw everything at him, or stay at home on his help and make him beat you himself. Given how Westbrook’s season has played out – he’s scored under 20 points just four times all year – the Raptors will probably give him the attention he commands.

PG: Russell Westbrook, Semaj Christon, Norris Cole
SG: Victor Oladipo, Alex Abrines
SF: Andre Roberson, Doug McDermott, Jerami Grant, Kyle Singler
PF: Taj Gibson, Domantas Sabonis, Nick Collison, Josh Huestis
C: Steven Adams, Enes Kanter
TBD: None
OUT: None


The line
The Raptors are 2.5-point favorites, and the line has held steady all day. The over under is at 207.5.

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