The Raptors (4-3) travel to Utah — the final destination of their long six-game west coast trip. Coming off their worst performance in recent memory, Toronto was absolutely battered by the Denver Nuggets to the tune of a 129-111 loss. 18 points. Doesn’t seem all that bad, does it? If you were watching this, it genuinely seemed like the score could have been 129-11. The Raptors were out-played and out-coached in a totally laughable effort Wednesday night.
The Utah Jazz (5-3) will enter this game a whole new team than the Raptors remember from last season. Former-Jazz All Star Gordon Hayward fled to the Boston Celtics in a LimeWire version of “The Decision”. All-NBAer, Rudy Gobert now leads the team with his new point guard, Ricky Rubio. Exciting combo-guard, Donovan Mitchell was drafted while the bench was remodelled with Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh (welcome back to the league, dude!). Probably still one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Joe Ingles re-signed in Utah and is just as, if not more important to the Jazz’ success than last season. Unsurprisingly, Utah has been one of the more impressive defensive teams thus far in the NBA season led by the pesky Rubio and elite post-defender, Gobert. Also, Rodney Hood leads the team in scoring at 17.2 ppg.
Is this the game Lowry finally explodes offensively (giving Jazz fans nightmarish flashbacks of his 19-point 4th quarter last season)? Will the Raptors rebound from a messy game in Denver? The Raptors head to high-altitude Utah, from even-higher altitude Denver in what should be an entertaining showdown in the Beehive State. The Raptors have won seven of their last eight versus Utah.
The game tips off at 9:00pm on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Sahal: Taylor, enlighten us non-Jazz NBA observers on what this post-Gordon Hayward era Utah Jazz has been like thus far. We know Ricky Rubio replaced George Hill as the lead PG in Quin Snyder’s system while the uber-explosive Donovan Mitchell, as well as other role players were added this offseason. What has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in terms of Utah’s playing style compared to last season?
Taylor: It was/is hard for everyone to get over Gordon Hayward leaving the Utah Jazz. But Dennis Lindsey brought some tough, gritty players to Utah this offseason that have given Jazz fans some hope after the Hayward decision. It’s been a huge adjustment adapting to the new Utah Jazz roster, but these guys are warriors on the court and play with toughness and tenacity every single game.
Sahal: Rudy Gobert has blossomed in front of our very eyes from a wiry, overseas question-mark to an All-NBA dominant big. He had a terrific breakout year last season and put the entire NBA on notice. With the loss of Hayward, do you believe ’The Stifle Tower’ has what it takes to lead (what is clearly now) his team to the NBA Playoffs? By the way, I hate that nickname. Ugh.
Taylor: It’s yet to be seen what can become of Rudy Gobert as the clear leader of the Utah Jazz. He has shown he can defend, but his offense is what will make the difference in Utah this season. He and Ricky Rubio are still working on a true rhythm in the pick-and-roll, but when they do, the rest of the NBA needs to watch out. If you don’t like the Stifle Tower nickname, I might suggest Gobzilla.
Sahal: I’m going to make this short and sweet. What Jazz player has to take their game to the next level to ensure a playoff appearance in Utah?
Taylor: If Ricky Rubio can elevate his game this season, the Utah Jazz will make the playoffs. If he can consistently knock down that pull-up jumper out of the pick-and-roll, the Jazz will win plenty of games in order to make the playoffs.
Sahal: Last question — tell us about this Donovan Mitchell kid. So far, all I’ve seen is him completely set fire to the NBA Summer League and witnessed an insane putback dunk highlight versus the LA Lakers. A large portion of NBA Twitter was super high on this kid coming out of Louisville. I know some beat writers of teams (no names will be mentioned) who are salty their team passed over Mitchell in the NBA Draft. Is he the real deal?
Taylor: Donovan Mitchell is the real deal. Watching him go toe-to-toe with Damian Lillard in an overtime win scoring 28 points solidified my belief that Mitchell is going to make some noise in the NBA. He still has plenty of room for improvement, as any rookie does, but Donovan Mitchell has made it easier to get over Gordon Hayward, especially when he is scoring at will.
For those interested in reading more on Donovan Mitchell, Taylor Griffin wrote an incredible piece on the kid here.
Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka both returned from injury versus the Nuggets. Valanciunas looked solid in the 13 minutes he was given with eight points and five rebounds on 4-4 shooting. Ibaka, on the other hand might have had a better performance if he just stayed on the bench altogether. He played terribly versus Denver, both offensively and defensively. With the rotation looking set, Dwane Casey will likely start both JV and Ibaka (barring some sort of injury setback) with either Siakam, Nogueira or Poeltl getting the short end of the stick.
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, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
Utah enters the game fairly healthy here. On October 24th, Utah announced that guard Dante Exum would be out indefinitely after undergoing shoulder surgery. Tough luck for the kid who entered the league with so much potential. His career has been absolutely decimated with injury after injury. Also, Joe Johnson is dealing with a right wrist injury and is targeting a mid-November return. The 36-year old was a key cog in some of Utah’s biggest moments last season. This may force Jonas Jerebko to step forward with an increased role during these next couple weeks. After a short stint with the G-League affilliate Salt Lake City Stars, center Tony Bradley was called back up to the Utah Jazz roster. Royce O’Neale beat out Joel Bolomboy for the final Jazz roster spot. He hasn’t seen a minute on the floor this season.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto
SG: Rodney Hood, Donovan Mitchell, Alec Burks
SF: Joe Ingles, Thabo Sefolosha, Royce O’Neale
PF: Derrick Favors, Jonas Jerebko
C: Rudy Gobert, Ekpe Udoh, Tony Bradley
OUT: Dante Exum, Joe Johnson
G-League (SLC Stars): Nate Wolters, Eric Griffin
The Raptors are 1.5-point underdogs with a 193 over-under.