Pre-game news & notes: Powell starts opener

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At this point, I’m guessing you’ve had enough preamble. To the season, to the game, and to every storyline the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors are facing. We’re just a few hours from finally, officially getting started, and if my own caffeine-fueled and uncharacteristic bubbly-ness today is any indication, everyone is ready to go.

Things could, and perhaps should, get off to a good start. The Raptors host the Chicago Bulls, a bit of a sad-sack team focused more on the loss column this year (in the big picture, anyway). Curses aside – and snapped last year, remember – the Raptors are a significantly better team. With the Philadelphia 76ers visiting Saturday and a six-game west-coast trip following that, they can ill afford to drop a winnable opener. Accordingly, they’re being pestered about the risks of underestimating an opponent, even in Game 1.

“I look at each opponent with a healthy amount of respect,” head coach Dwane Casey iterated at shootaround Thursday. “You can’t look and say, ‘Well they don’t have Michael Jordan,’ or, ‘They don’t have Scottie Pippen.’ They still get paid twice a month. And that’s what I was telling our team: The most dangerous teams are the teams that seem like they’re having whatever turmoil that may be perceived, so we have to come out with that sense of urgency and that mentality to start the game.”

What a good start would look like for the Raptors is still a matter of some uncertainty. They’re changing their offensive identity some, and while we’ve discussed it to death, a refresher: They averaged over 40 3-point attempts in the preseason, shot under 30 percent on those attempts, played at a faster pace, and were around league average in assist percentage. Three of those are positive changes, and the hope will be that was they reintroduce some of their core approach, the hybrid outcome looks something like 32-35 threes, a league-average percentage, and something around a 55-percent assist rate, all moderate steps towards modernity that should make for a more aesthetically pleasing style of play.

“We’re not Golden State, we’re not Houston, and we’re not trying to be,” Casey said. “We’re trying to be the best Toronto Raptor team that our skillset allows us to be, if that makes sense.”

It does. Seeing exactly what that may look like as the former paradigm is merged with the preseason one is an exciting proposition. We’re less than two hours away.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on TSN and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
It’s somewhat interesting to be entering a season with a lot of stability and continuity yet still a lot of rotation questions. We’ve belabored them at this point, each position battle, particularly on the bench. Even for the coaching staff, those remain question marks, albeit exciting ones.

“Hard play and growth from our second unit,” Casey said at shootaround. “We have a good feel of who our second unit is going to be. But we have some big holes to fill, some big shoes to fill from last year. Our young guys are there and ready, they’ve worked hard. Those guys growing, playing hard, they’re going to make mistakes. The growth of that group is how we’ll judge how we’re playing. We know who Serge and Kyle and DeMar are. Can you tell me who’s going to step up from that second group? That’s the beautiful thing about it, going into tonight, we’re all going to find out at the same time.”

Malcolm Miller (ankle) is the only player on the shelf. Lorenzo Brown, K.J. McDaniels, and Bruno Caboclo will probably be your other inactives. The guess here is that Norman Powell starts, but check back closer to tip-off for confirmation.

UPDATE: Powell starts.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Malcolm Miller
Healthy Inactive: Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, K.J. McDaniels
TBD: None
905: None

Bulls updates
As covered off in the pre-game, the Bulls are a bit of a thinned-out mess right now. Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne are sidelined, necessitating two-way player Ryan Arcidiacono being active and Kay Felder being claimed off of waivers. Zach LaVine still has a way to go in his comeback. And Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic out, getting the former suspended and the latter concussed and sidelined with broken bones in his face. That’s five Bulls down, and it leaves a bad team thinned out. They’ll have 12 healthy players active thanks to the pair of two-ways, but this isn’t a threatening team on paper.

Not that there are any certainties in the NBA.

“My approach is still we go out there, it’s an NBA game, they’re professional athletes, they’ll come out and play hard,” Lowry warned. “They don’t have the big names, but Jerian Grant, he’s really good, the kid Markannen is really good. They have some good young, hard-playing guys.”

Quincy Pondexter will make his NBA return tonight (technically he’s only “probable” but sounded at shootaround like he’ll play), which is a really nice story. Paul Zipser, who missed the preseason game against Toronto with a back ailment, is also back and starting.

PG: Jerian Grant, Ryan Arcidiacono, Kay Felder
SG: Justin Holiday, David Nwaba, Antonio Blakeney
SF: Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine
PF: Lauri Markannen, Quincy Pondexter
C: Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio
OUT: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic
TBD: None
Windy City: None


The line
The Raptors opened as 12.5-point favorites and the line has nudged to Raptors -13, even Raptors -13.5 some places. That is a pretty big line for an opening night game, even with the obvious talent gap at play here. Teams are hungry and less sharp and weird things happen. The over under opened at 206, got as high as 208.5, and now sits at 208.

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