Injuries are not taking the luster off of Thursday’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, if the Air Canada Centre in the hours prior is any indication. With executives from all around the league in town for the mini-summit that the G League Showcase creates and the Raptors hosting their two-time playoff foe on TNT in the United States, the national media presence is strong. This is mostly inconsequential for the on-court proceedings, but I mention it because fans seem to care a fair amount about this cross-over coverage of the Raptors.
The Raptors, though, are trying to take it in stride. They’ll be out Serge Ibaka due to suspension and are unlikely to have Kyle Lowry, which has made them an underdog at home. Maybe that veil of being shorthanded and an underdog frees them up from an energy perspective, whereas a fully equipped Raptors team might be feeling pressure from a would-be measuring-stick game. For their part, they’re admitting the gravitas of the situation but insulating themselves from it a bit, too.
“It’s an important game, I’m not going to take it away from that,” head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround. “But it’s not going to define who we are, who they are, win, lose or draw. You’ve got to take care of business in your conference, and then head-to-head games are important, too. But you can’t go into it like it’s do or die.”
A win also may mean something to Casey. The coach with the best record as of Feb. 4 coaches the All-Star team in each conference, and since Brad Stevens coached last year and is ineligible, it seems either Casey or Ty Lue will be getting the nod. A win here would help in the standings and for tiebreaker, though Casey would surely tell you that’s not on his mind.
The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
Somehow, the discipline from the league didn’t come down evenly, so the sides won’t be equitably thinned out here. Serge Ibaka is suspended, and Kyle Lowry is listed as questionable but was considered unlikely to play by Masai Ujiri on the radio last night and by beat writers who were at shootaround (I was at the G League Showcase, my bad). Casey confirmed pre-game that he’s out, getting ahead of things. That means everyone slides up a spot at the point guard depth chart, C.J. Miles or Pascal Siakam get a start at power forward (the team likely won’t reveal until close to tip-off), and a few others will see their roles expanded.
“That’s why you have 15 on the roster. Other guys have to fill in,” Casey said. “The old saying is next man up is very relevant tonight with two starters out. They’re not gonna change the game. They’re not gonna cancel the game. Guys who have been wanting playing time and needing playing time, they’re going to have an opportunity.”
If you could almost feel Casey looking at Norman Powell as he said that, you’re not alone. This should be a big opportunity for Delon Wright, too, as he’s adept at forcing live-ball turnovers and the Cavaliers are particularly shaky giving up corner threes in transition. They’ll work to get the ball away from the primary ball-handler – whether it be Wright, DeMar DeRozan, or whomever – and it’ll fall on the Raptors support pieces to make Cleveland pay accordingly. It’s obviously tougher when every player playing is a support piece, but as Casey put it at shootaround, “life is challenging.”
The challenge for the Raptors will be giving DeRozan enough help, something Miles talked about at length at shootaround.
Check back before tip-off for starters.
UPDATE: Miles starts for Ibaka.
PG: Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka
As mentioned, justice isn’t, uhh, just, and so the Cavaliers will have Isaiah Thomas here despite his Stan Hansen impression the other night. Thomas is still working his way back to form, appearing in three games and looking shaky in at least one of them.
“Just having him out there, having another threat,” LeBron James said of Thomas. “The guy was out from playing basketball for seven month so it’s going to take while to get his rhythm back as you can tell, as you could see on the floor, get his wind back, his cardio, get his legs back underneath him. To know that that he’s playing in [consecutive] games is a good start in the right direction.”
The Cavaliers can afford to be patient bringing him along, though it does open the window here a bit for the Raptors to take advantage of a poor defensive team working a high-usage piece back in. There are areas the Raptors can take advantage. It’s not an obvious loss just because Lowry and Ibaka are down.
UPDATE: Ty Lue was apparently mis-heard pre-game. Originally, it was passed on that Isaiah Thomas was out, but listening back, Lue actually said Thomas will sit Friday on the second night of the back-to-back.
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Jose Calderon
SG: J.R. Smith, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver
SF: Jae Crowder, Cedi Osman
PF: LeBron James, Jeff Green, Channing Frye
C: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
OUT: Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert
Canton: John Holland, London Perrantes, Ante Zizic
- 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).
- Raptors 905 are home for the G League Showcase. All of Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Bruno Caboclo played in the team’s 12 pm game earlier today, and all four are back with the team here. Three will be active.
- The G League Showcase is taking place in Mississauga this week, Jan. 10-13. You can use promo code RRSHOW at this link for discounts off of all the games.
- Over at The Athletic, I dished out mid-season report cards for the 905. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription here.
- The NBA released it’s Last 2 Minute Report for Raptors-Heat, showing the following:
- Bam Adebayo should have been called for Defensive 3 Seconds with 39.7 to go.
- Also over at The Athletic, I broke down the final minute of Raptors-Heat.
- Serge Ibaka issued an apology to the Rapso organization and fanbase for his suspension:
— Serge Ibaka (@sergeibaka) January 11, 2018
- Here’s LeBron James on the Raptors and their fans from shootaround: “They’re playing some really, really good basketball over the course of the year. Obviously the injury to Kyle and the suspension of Serge they’ll be just a little bit different, but the level DeRozan is playing out right now, they’re very good still. We’re looking forward to the challenge and coming in this building, it’s always a great environment to play in.”
The Raptors are 3-point underdogs, a little tighter than the Cavaliers -3.5 line they opened at. The over-under is at 223.