It feels a little strange to have gone this long without a Toronto Raptors home game so early in the year. After playing a pair at the Air Canada Centre to start the year, the Raptors embarked on a six-game trip against Western Conference opponents, as difficult a two weeks as there is on the NBA schedule. Getting it out of the way early is probably a positive, and the Raptors fought through some genuine adversity to return home with a 3-3 mark on the trip and a 5-3 mark overall. That’s a success, to be sure.
Things get easier from here, with the fewest miles traveled in the NBA from this point forward and a schedule that’s pretty friendly by quality of competition. They’re at home for three in a row starting Sunday, for example, with the Washington Wizards visiting first. The Wizards aren’t exactly an easy opponent, but the specter of a potential John Wall absence could welcome Toronto back with a very winnable game.
If Wall can go, the Wizards are tough. They’ve been the league’s third-best offense so far, rarely turning the ball over, getting to line at will, and employing a high-end offensive rebounder in Marcin Gortat with wings who crash in support. They’ve had less success on the other side of the ball, but they force turnovers at a high rate to fuel a lethal transition game when Wall leads the break. The Raptors can’t just rely on a return home to carry them, and teams will often talk about the first game back as something like a road game given the sudden unfamiliarity after 13 days away.
The game tips off at 6 on TSN 4 and Sportsnet 590.
Blake Murphy: Markieff Morris made his season debut on Friday, which should help stabilize a forward rotation that’s been starting Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre after toying with Jason Smith for a game. What kind of a different look does Morris give the team over the smaller Oubre-Porter duo, and do you see him taking the starting four spot back long-term?
Kevin Parrish: Morris brings more size, toughness, and rebounding. If Morris was fully healthy, he could’ve provided a bit of LeBron resistance, which is something Oubre and Porter couldn’t do. I think Oubre is heading for a breakout season, he’s been great. But I think Brooks likes to have size out there.
Blake Murphy: Better tattoos: Mike Scott or Lucas Nogueira?
Kevin Parrish: I’m biased so I’ll say, Mike Scott.
Blake Murphy: John Wall is one of the most exciting players in the entire league. A speed demon on the break, Wall pings to corner shooters in transition like nobody else can, can be among the best defensive point guards in the league when he’s dialled in, and only really has outside shooting to speak of as a weakness. How much fun is it to watch Wall nightly, and where would you rank him among NBA point guards?
Kevin Parrish: It’s awesome to watch Wall on a nightly basis. He’s so fast and dynamic, he’s 6’3 with the handles of a small guy. If the defender gets up on him, he’ll drive right past like lightning and dunk on you with his left or right. Ranking him among NBA point guards is tough. He’s definitely in the top tier, but there’s also guys like two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. There’s last year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double for an entire season. There’s the runner-up for the award last year, James Harden, and his new teammate in Houston, Chris Paul who goes by the nickname “The Point God”. Then you have Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry. So it’s tough. Personally, I would rank him in the 4-8 range, but it depends on what my team looks like.
Blake Murphy: Is Kelly Oubre the best-dressed player in the NBA?
Kevin Parrish: Oubre can dress, but I wouldn’t say he’s the best-dressed player in the NBA. Guys like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, LeBron James can dress really well. My personal favorite is Dwyane Wade. He wears everything with confidence, whether it’s a tailored suit or an over-the-top khaki ensemble. He’s not afraid to play with color, print, or fabric. I respect that.
Blake Murphy: Despite being the type of big he normally does well against, Marcin Gortat has been a problem for Jonas Valanciunas in the past. Over 15 regular season meetings, Valanciunas has won 13 but scored 3.4 points and grabbed one rebounds, and there’s of course the four-game playoff series from a few years back. What has Gortat been able to do in those matchups to tilt things in his favor?
Kevin Parrish: Valanciunas has speed and athleticism to his advantage, but Gortat has great positioning, strength, and grit to make up for it. Gortat doesn’t just use skill to win the matchup, sometimes he just plays with far more effort than Valanciunas. Prime example, look back at the 2015 NBA playoffs between the two teams.
A return home and a Saturday off should have the Raptors feeling pretty good heading into this one, even with an earlier tip. They might not be fully intact, though. C.J. Miles missed Friday’s game due to illness and is being listed as questionable here. His absence allowed both OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam to stay in the rotation against Denver, and it could be tough for head coach Dwane Casey to find time for both if Miles is back in the lineup. Miles’ return would, obviously, be a boon to the team’s outside shooting and, if the rotations go back to how they were, he’ll once again help stabilize the second unit.
The injury report was empty otherwise. I’ll still be keeping an eye on the status of two point guards in Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright. Lowry banged his chin very hard on the floor in the fourth quarter of Friday’s game, and while he stayed in after getting bandaged up, it wouldn’t be the first time a player felt the effects of a hit to the head after the fact. (Lowry’s taken a beating this year.) Wright appeared to be favoring his shoulder a bit Friday. They’re probably nothing since they aren’t on the report. Fred VanVleet has remained firmly in the rotation despite some struggles shooting and finishing, and he’d stand to see a bigger role if either of the other point guards are banged up.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, (C.J. Miles), Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: C.J. Miles
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
Following Friday’s loss to Cleveland, John Wall spoke to media with his left arm in a sling. Tests later revealed no structural damage, but Wall is dealing with soreness and is being listed as questionable here. If he can’t go, that’s a big swing in Toronto’s favor, as Wall is a difficult two-way challenge. The Wizards aren’t exactly flush with point guard depth, either, as Tim Frazier’s merely a nice backup and Tomas Satoransky is probably their third at the position if it came to it.
Elsewhere, the rotation has some clarity with Markieff Morris back. The Wizards start out traditionally, will play smaller at times off the bench with Otto Porter as the de facto power forward, and they can even get really aggressive small with Mike Scott, Jason Smith, or even Morris at center. The Oubre-Porter-Morris trio gives Scott Brooks a lot of options at the forward positions, and Washington has a lot of length to throw DeMar DeRozan’s way on defense.
PG: (John Wall), Tim Frazier, Tomas Satoransky
SG: Bradley Beal, Jodie Meeks
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Jason Smith, Chris McCullough
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi
OUT: Sheldon Mac
TBD: John Wall
G-League (no affiliate): Devin Robinson, Mike Young
The line is off the board most places, likely because Wall’s status is up in the air. The one place I did find it, the Raptors were 4.5-point favorites with a 216.5 over-under. I’d expect the Raptors to be larger favorites closer to tip-off if Wall can’t go.