It’s been some time since the Toronto Raptors were forced to deal with any sort of fatigue. After a road-heavy and somewhat condensed start to the season, they played three times over a 13-day span, a welcome stretch with which to rest minor injuries and continue to work on changes at both ends of the floor. Refreshed, the Raptors have won six games in a row, including the first two on a four-game road trip.
There are no easy road trips, though, and Monday presents the Raptors’ first challenge in a while coming in the form of a back-to-back. The Los Angeles Clippers are nobody’s idea of a juggernaut down multiple key pieces and looking like a team that maybe should have hit the eject button on this core during the offseason, and still, they’re a reasonably rested team playing at home, hosting a team on a back-to-back, three time zones from home and adjusting from a 12:30 local start on Sunday to a normal one here.
None of these are excuses. The Raptors remain favored and, on paper, should be expected to beat the Clippers. This is all just to say that circumstances arise over 82 games, and a perfect four-game sweep away from home shouldn’t be taken as a given, even if it looks light. It should, however, be the goal, and the Raptors would surely love the momentum of an eight-game winning streak when they return home later this week, the kind of stretch that can be held up next to double-digit winning streaks for their conference benchmarks in Boston and Cleveland. How the Raptors come out Monday night should be telling as to how their mental investment in establishing an East hierarchy weighs against a modicum of fatigue.
The game tips off at 10:30 on TSN 1 and TSN 1050.
To help set the stage, I reached out to Jovan Buha of ESPN, and he was kind enough to help us out.
Blake Murphy: After being linked together as the East/West version of each other (shouts to The Great William Lou), the Clippers and Raptors find themselves in very different positions. Is this leading to the end of this Clippers run as we knew it?
Jovan Buha: The Clippers’ run as we knew it ended on June 28, 2017 when they traded Chris Paul to the Rockets. This team was never going to contend with this roster, with the best-case scenario being a sixth- or seventh-seed finish. Things have obviously played out in a worst-case scenario — Blake Griffin going down for two months, and three of the other five starters also suffering long-term injuries — so the Clippers’ situation looks worse than it probably is, but it’d be foolish to make any further comparisons between the Clippers and Raptors (unless, of course, you want to compare their tortured recent pasts).
Blake Murphy: Blake Griffin hitting the shelf probably kills any chance of him being dealt this year. DeAndre Jordan, then, is the crown jewel to be had if the Clippers try to take a step back. Nearing in on free agency, what kind of return would the Clippers be looking for to part with Jordan?
Jovan Buha: The first question the Clippers need to answer when deciding DeAndre Jordan’s trade value: Do they want to re-sign him this summer? If not (which is what I suspect), they should move him, and the sooner the better (unless they want to wait until the 23rd hour of the trade deadline). Jordan has quietly had a slightly down season by his standards — he hasn’t been as efficient, and his defensive effort isn’t passing the eye test — and given his impending free agency, and the small number of teams that need a center (maybe the Raptors?), the exact market for Jordan is unknown. That said, the Clippers should be looking to acquire young assets, whether it be a young player with potential or a first-round draft pick, and not take back any unnecessary long-term salary.
Blake Murphy: I know Lou Williams has much more value as a Sixth Man on a good team than on one just kind of getting by, but have you enjoyed the Lou Will experience so far?
Jovan Buha: I got some of the Lou Will Experience with the Lakers — whom I also cover — and with Jamal Crawford on the Clippers over the past few years, but it’s been enjoyable nonetheless. Without Lou, the Clippers would likely have a historically bad offense. I don’t think the Clippers envisioned him becoming their No. 1 option, but that’s just how the season has gone. I’m still amazed defenders fall for his pump fakes — stay down!
Blake Murphy: Milos Teodosic sounds like he’s nearing a return. Milos Teodosic sounds like he’s nearing a return! Does he bring enough fun back to the proceedings to help make the Clippers’ lot in life a little more palatable short-term?
Jovan Buha: Yes. In his brief NBA career, Teodosic has been must-see TV. He’s the flashiest passer the league has seen since a young Jason Williams, and it’s an absolute joy to watch. I mean, who else makes passes like this? (Against the Raptors, no less.) He won’t save the Clippers’ season — it ended the moment Blake Griffin went down against the Lakers — but he’ll make them a #LeaguePassAlert team once or twice a week.
Blake Murphy: You’re a noted Drake fan. Two-parter, then: Will Drake come down from Calabasas for this one, and where does More Life rank on your unofficial year-end album list?
Jovan Buha: I don’t think so — Drake hasn’t been frequenting Staples Center the past couple seasons as often as he used to, and I doubt that changes for this game (I’m trying to reverse-jinx this). And as for the second question, c’mon man … More Life is the album of the year.
The Raptors should look pretty similar to what we’ve seen over the last few games. There’s not a strong incentive to change a lot during a pretty dominant six-game winning streak, and the one thing they could probably stand to tweak – limiting the all-bench group’s time together in favor of more of the typical star-led second units – might not be palatable a night after both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played 35 minutes. Otherwise, there shouldn’t be many workload concerns here. Serge Ibaka was third on the team with only 28 minutes on Sunday, it was an afternoon game that gives them some extra cushion between outings, and the team entered this four-game trip very well-rested.
As an update of sorts since it was a talking point a few weeks back, the starting lineup has been quite good together since OG Anunoby checked in. They’re a plus-10.3 net rating in 178 minutes, and while some of that is floated by an unsustainable offensive rebounding rate, it’s good to see them really hammering opposing starters (plus-25.8) over the last six games.
To repeat updates from yesterday, quickly: Delon Wright is playing 3-on-3 now, Lucas Nogueira has progressed to shooting, and Bruno Caboclo (with Raptors 905) is dealing with a minor ankle injury that isn’t believed to be serious. With no practice between games and an off day tomorrow, there probably won’t be any sort of update until Wednesday’s shootaround.
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, Malcolm Miller
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Lucas Nogueira
905: Bruno Caboclo
As Jovan and I dove into a bit, the Clippers are somewhat of a mess right now. Blake Griffin and Patrick Beverley are out long-term, which takes away two of the team’s best and most important players – in general defensively, in personality, and in offensive construction in the case of Griffin. It’s a rough road. Adding to it has been the extended absence of Milos Teodosic, who head coach Doc Rivers said could be back any day now. Teodosic is dealing with plantar fasciitis, which is a terrible thing to have to deal with. He’s also returned to practice and could play as soon as Monday, though he’ll be eased back in.
As it stands, the Clippers’ most used lineup that is available to them Monday has only played 30 minutes together this year. That’s how thinned-out and stretching they’ve been. So it’s all a beautiful mess they’re still storing through, with some interesting looks they could throw at Toronto to try to trip them up. They’ll also be the more rested team here.
PG: Austin Rivers, (Milos Teodosic), Jawun Evans
SG: Sindarius Thornwell, Lou Williams
SF: Wesley Johnson, C.J. Williams, Sam Dekker
PF: Danilo Gallinari, Jamil Wilson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed
OUT: Patrick Beverley
TBD: Milos Teodosic
Agua Caliente: Brice Johnson
Despite the back-to-back scenario, the Raptors are 5.5-point favorites. The over-under is at 215.