Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: Wright starts with Lowry out; Johnson out for Heat

The Toronto Raptors have won five games in a row 30 times in the franchise’s history. Three of those instances have come this year, including the current stretch they find themselves on. The Raptors have won six games in a row 16 times in the franchise’s history, and they have a chance to make it 17 on Tuesday when the Miami Heat visit. These mini-streaks aren’t really all that notable, except to point out that the first half of the Raptors season has included a heck of a lot of winning, whatever schedule caveats you choose to throw at it. Their 28-10 start is the best the team’s ever had, putting them on a 60-win pace that outstrips even their remarkable 2015-16.

Things are about to get tougher, and not just because Kyle Lowry is injured. The Heat come in rested, the Raptors on the second night of a travel back-to-back having gone to overtime last night. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors follow, then the Raptors head to Philadelphia. San Antonio is coming soon, and there are games visiting and hosting Minnesota.

Miami comes first. They’re playing well even thinned out by injury, and they’re the type of well-coached team that can play beyond their record, even a good one, on a given night. Down Lowry for the first time all year, the Raptors will have to fight through unfamiliarity and maybe a bit of a mental let-down here. How this one goes could set the tone for a tough week to come.

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 1/4 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The Raptors announced Tuesday that Kyle Lowry is out for this game and is considered day-to-day with a bone bruise on his tailbone, as well as back spasms. It would be a little surprising if Lowry was back on the court this week, but bone bruise injuries are treated symptomatically and come down to a matter of how fast someone heals, when the spasms subside, and how quickly the pain dissipates. Toronto will be cautious, even if Lowry is champing at the bit to play Cleveland and Golden State. Still, don’t consider him out for any game until it’s confirmed.

We’ll get a look at how the Raptors plan to operate without him here. Delon Wright starting makes the most sense since he’s the team’s best point guard with Lowry down and has been playing the most minutes off the bench (albeit not always the closing ones). There’s also an argument to be made that this best maintains rotation stability, as the second unit in that scenario has some experience together – when Wright was injured, the Fred VanVleet-Norman Powell-C.J. Miles-Pascal Siakam-Jakob Poeltl group played 54 minutes together. They were crushed in those minutes without much offense at all, but they at least have some experience. Maybe Lucas Nogueira continuing to see some minutes in a renewed battle with Poeltl could help.

“Just continue to play the way he plays, being more aggressive, have confidence in his shot,’ Casey said of what Wright needs to do. “He’s had some games where he’s just had tremendous confidence in himself, taking his shot with conviction, being aggressive on his drives. He’s got the talent to do that, he’s just got to go out and do it.”

Wright was listed as the starter on the team’s game notes, though those can’t be taken for gospel. Check back before tip-off for an update, as Dwane Casey’s pre-game availability was bumped later than usual.

UPDATE: Wright starts.

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

Heat updates
Ravaged by injury most of the season, Erik Spoelstra has toyed with Miami’s starting lineup plenty. Through players coming in and out and over- or under-performing in different roles, it took some time for him to find the right mix. Doing so has been a big part of the team’s turnaround – they’ve used the same starters in seven consecutive games, that group has played to a plus-6.3 net rating in those games, and the Heat as a team have been a slightly above-average team since Christmas. Stability is important, and so while they’ll be thrilled to get Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters back in the coming weeks, they seem to be comfortable with at least the top eight in their rotation right now.

That eight includes James Johnson once again looking comfortable in a super-sub role, rookie Bam Adebayo playing well enough as a backup center that Kelly Olynyk is essentially a full-time power forward now, and Wayne Ellington scorching nets on a high volume of threes. At this point, Raptors fans are familiar with the starters, particularly the challenges that Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside present, and Tuesday will be a stiff test for a renewed-look second unit, too.

“Against a team like tonight, you better be 100 percent,” Casey said of the 3-point defense against the high-volume, high-efficiency opponent. “When you’re guarding Ellington, knowing where he is on the floor, being on high-alert when a pin-down is coming, to execute the way we’re gonna guard it. We did not do a good job with that last night.”

UPDATE: Tyler Johnson is out for the Heat with a shoulder strain. So scratch all of that stuff about familiarity and continuity. Derrick Walton Jr. is being routed from the airport (Sious Falls are arriving for the G League Showcase) to the ACC for depth.

PG: Goran Dragic, Derrick Walton Jr.
SG: Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington
SF: Derrick Jones Jr.
PF: Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Jordan Mickey
C: Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem
OUT: Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Okaro White
TBD: None
Sioux Falls: A.J. Hammons

Assorted

  • Voting for the NBA All-Star Game is now open. You can refresh yourself on the voting procedures here. Make sure to hit that hashtag #NBAVote for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (separately – double-player tweets don’t count).
    • The Raptors social team has done a great job with the photoshops pushing the tag-team aspect of the All-Star push. They got love from The Rock, had Lowry lauging in the IG comments, and even had DeRozan turn one of them into a hoodie. Nice work all around.

  • Raptors 905 are home for the G League Showcase now and will probably reconnect with the big club here. Expect Alfonzo McKinnie and Bruno Caboclo to be called up Tuesday while Malcolm Miller stays down for the Showcase. Lorenzo Brown was initially expected to be down for the Showcase, as well, but could be recalled here for point guard depth.
  • Kyle Lowry seemed genuinely appreciative of the supportive response to his injury:

  • LeBron James had some words for the injured Lowry on Twitter:

  • LOL

The NBA released it’s Last 2 Minute Report for Raptors-Nets and showed a pair of incorrect non-calls in the Raptors’ favor.

The line
The Raptors are 4-point favorites, which is way down from the Raptors -7.5 the line opened it. While I understand that Lowry’s absence is worthy of a big swing, I find it a bit surprising that it wasn’t already baked into the line late last night or early this morning. It will be interesting to see if it continues to edge toward the 3.5-point mark that roughly denotes “even on neutral court.” The over-under has dropped from 208 to 206.

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