The Toronto Raptors are good, and they’re incredibly well-rested. The Phoenix Suns are much less good, and they couldn’t come in more fatigued. Tuesday night’s game at the Air Canada Centre would, on paper and based on all research about rest advantages in basketball, seem like a terrific opportunity for the Raptors to extend their winning streak to four and continue building some positive momentum with both their starting lineup and second unit.
It’s natural, at this point, to be worried about such games. on an 82-game schedule, teams can over- and under-perform with some regularity, and the Raptors have been perceived to play down to their competition some the last few seasons. Even as the league’s lone undefeated teams against sub-.500 competition, the Raptors are trying to stay vigilant when it comes to giving the matchup the respect it deserves, lest it look like the dreaded trap game in retrospect.
“I think it’s both ways, actually. ‘Cause when you’re on the road for a long trip and it’s the last game, sometimes guys just trying to get home to their family, they’re tired from being on the road. At the same time, you’re kinda coming in expecting them to be tired, and they might not be,” C.J. Miles said at shootaround. “When you’ve got a young team that’s doing it, especially, you call ’em almost trap games in the NBA. All they’re trying to do is prove themselves. That’s all they’re doing, is trying to prove themselves and show everybody that they’re supposed to be here and they have a chance to be good in the future. And that’s what we’ve gotta be able to know and show: That we are here, this is what we do right now.”
Toronto has shown it can take care of their business in proper fashion. They have seven double-digit wins, five or six of which contained garbage time and two of which were immense blowouts. They’ve also looked much less convincing at times, so proper caution is warranted before shutting off the TV in a 12-point game tonight. This should be a win, and it would be great to see the Raptors heed Miles’ rally cry and put a tired Phoenix team away early.
The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
Some minor updates out of shootaround: Jakob Poeltl, who missed practice Monday due to illness, was at shootaround and will play. Lucas Nogueira was doing some work on the exercise bike as he makes his way back from a tear in his calf. Delon Wright has progressed to shooting, if you missed that update earlier.
In other words, everything should look as it did when the Raptors last played, which feels like it was about three weeks ago at this point. It seems as if Dwane Casey has settled on a 10-man rotation with Wright and Nogueira out, something he can do comfortably with the amount of rest the team’s had of late. If the Raptors take care of their business, the rotation should expand further, with Lorenzo Brown and Alfonzo McKinnie seeing their second games of the day.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo
Despite playing their sixth game in 10 days, the Suns aren’t as banged up as that trip might suggest. To be clear, they’re down three players longer-term in Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, and Alan Williams, but there’s been only one casualty of the current stretch. That would be Alex Len, who’s a game-time decision here with an ankle sprain. He’s been rotating in and out of the center rotation over the last two weeks, and if he can’t go here, Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe would absorb more minutes.
Phoenix will roll with mostly the same starters that beat Philadelphia on Monday. That means less Mike James and more Tyler Ulis, a matchup Kyle Lowry can make hay in (Ulis is a nice piece but small even by the standards of Toronto point guards). They’ll start Monroe rather than Chandler opposite Jonas Valanciunas, however, which is probably to the Raptors’ advantage. The bigger concern is the standard starters, namely Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, both of whom can score in a hurry and will probably draw OG Anunoby and DeMar DeRozan, respectively.
“It’s going to be a big assignment for him (Anunoby), for Norm, for DeMar, all of our wing players,” Casey said before the game. “OG is learning to guard dynamic players like this, that use the pick-and-roll. You used to have the power threes but those guys, Carmelo moved out, and we haven’t seen James yet from Cleveland. So his matchups are kinda guys that are like Booker. It’s gonna be interesting to see. I know he had Beal earlier and did a decent job, as well as you could with a young player on him, and this’ll be another learning experience.”
UPDATE: Len said he’ll play, which probably means Chandler rotates out of the three-man group with a DNP-Rest, if recent patterns hold.
PG: Tyler Ulis, Mike James
SG: Devin Booker, Troy Daniels
SF: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson
PF: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley
C: Greg Monroe, Alex Len, Tyson Chandler
OUT: Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, Alan Williams
Northern Arizona: Alec Peters, Derrick Jones Jr.
- Raptors 905 broke their own record for G League attendance this morning with 18,900 in attendance at the Air Canada Centre. It’s the fifth day-night doubleheader they’ve done during the 905’s existence and (obviously) the most well-attended yet. Several Raptors were on hand for a bit, too, following shootaround.
- Alfonzo McKinnie and Lorenzo Brown will have a chance to join Fred VanVleet, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl as Raptors to appear in both the day and night games of the 905-Raptors doubleheader. Caboclo was not recalled.
- Masai Ujiri held his fourth annual Giants of Africa event this morning, honoring the late Nelson Mandela. It’s an event Ujiri holds understandably dear, and it’s always inspiring to hear the passion with which he speaks about his home.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 5, 2017
“This city is a winner.”
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 5, 2017
- Over at The Athletic, I’m doing a mini-series on the bench. Part one (why they claim to be the best in the league) and part two (how the bench was constructed) went up last week. Part three (to what degree a great bench matters in the playoffs) is now live, too. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription at this link.
- For any of you 2K studs:
In an AMA, NBA lays out tryout procedure for 2K eSports league. Play from Jan. 1-31 + application will make players eligible for Stage 2 in Feb. pic.twitter.com/z1u41AYbUE
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 5, 2017
The Raptors have hovered around 13.5- or 14-point favorites most of the day. The over-under has come down from 224.5 to 223.