Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: Welcome Toronto

This court looks insanely good.

It’s the first Welcome Toronto night at the Air Canada Centre on Friday as the Toronto Raptors host the Utah Jazz on an OVO-themed court with their OVO-themed jerseys.

I hold back, sometimes I won’t. I feel good, sometimes I don’t.

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The Welcome Toronto partnership is a lot of things, most of them having little to do with the on-court play of the Raptors, but the name itself could stand in as a mantra of the team when they’ve played at home this season. The Raptors are 17-3 at home, the second best mark in the league behind San Antonio (20-3), and with seven of their next eight games at the ACC, Welcome Toronto comes at the outset of a stretch where the Raptors have a real opportunity to make continued noise in the standings.

“I’ll be honest with you, I did not know we had seven out of eight here. That just shows you we’re really taking it game-by-game and understand next game is important,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround. “We’re not looking at nothing else, nothing past that. We can’t worry about nothing else, can’t worry about a break, can’t worry about none of that. We’ve got to understand let’s play good basketball until further notice.”

Just because the team is taking it game by game doesn’t mean they don’t have a general feel for their progress in the macro sense. Through that lens, the Raptors feel pretty good about where they are, for more than just their franchise-best record to date.

“I think this is the best we’ve felt mentally, especially with a lot of the guys that’s been here, of understanding the importance of this time of the year,” DeRozan said.

Being home is always a little easier, and the Raptors have frequently brought the appropriate energy and force here. The Jazz are a good initial test, though, a team you have to get the jump on early and who won’t concede an easy high-scoring comeback if the Raptors sputter out of the gates. The Raptors should be fired up for the spectacle of the evening, with designs on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and continuing to grow the ACC’s reputation as one of the toughest buildings in the league.inst

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
The Raptors enter healthy and likely to use the same rotation they’ve employed for a couple of games now, give or take an 11th man in Norman Powell. The team is happy with their depth, and while they have a couple of weaknesses – outside shooting and defensive rebounding, namely – unlike a year ago when they were conceding they needed reinforcements, the team seems pretty confident in the pieces they have.

“I think we have enough of everything,” Kyle Lowry said, parroting Casey. “It’s a make or miss league. At that time, sometimes shots go in, sometimes you miss them. I think we’ve got to do a better job of staying the flow of our offense. That’s what we were practicing those days in Atlanta, just staying in the flow and continuing to move the ball and take shots. But DeMar is our guy and we’re going to ride or die with him and any shot he takes. He’s going to make plays for us.”

The DeRozan point is interesting, as the Raptors’ offense has been elite for the season but struggled in the clutch, where it still looks fairly similar to prior seasons. Utah presents a nice test of their resolve on that end, as they’re a solid defensive team that forces a lot of turnovers, takes care of their own glass, employs an elite rim protector, and doesn’t send opponents to the line much despite all of that. They also do a good job cutting down on opponent corner threes. There’s not much easy against the Jazz, in other words, and the improvements of DeRozan and the offense as a whole will be on display.

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

Jazz updates
In the pre-game, I went into some of the lineups the Jazz have used to positive results, namely ones that don’t include both Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors. Zach Lowe highlighted the flip side today, suggesting an eventual starting lineup change since that five-some has struggled to score. With the Raptors possessing the league’s No. 4 defense, Utah might not be able to get away with some of these combinations:

That’s a lot of iterations struggling to get on the board, and their starters neutralize themselves a bit because the spacing with two non-shooters in Rubio and Favors neuters what could otherwise be a great pick-and-roll attack. Gobert is a big lob threat, Rubio a gifted passer, and Donovan Mitchell an emerging wunderkind, so there are pieces here that can work together. The Jazz send Rubio and Favors to the bench pretty quickly on average, per NBARotations, and so there’s an implied impetus on the Raptors to start strong while Utah has a suboptimal group out there.

Adding to Utah’s troubles here is that Rodney Hood remains sidelined with a leg contusion, joining Thabo Sefolosha and Dante Exum on the shelf.

PG: Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto
SG: Donovan Mitchell, Alec Burks
SF: Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale
PF: Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson, Jonas Jerebko
C: Rudy Gobert, Ekpe Udoh
OUT: Dante Exum, Thabo Sefolosha, Rodney Hood
TBD: None
Salt Lake City: Georges Niang, Erik McCree, Tony Bradley

Assorted

  • Raptors 905 play at home Saturday afternoon, and it seems likely that they’ll have all four of their potential assignees on hand, since the Raptors are at full health. Alfonzo McKinnie has been with the Raptors of late, while Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller, and Bruno Caboclo have been with the 905.
  • I’ll have a lot of trade deadline primer/Q&A kind of stuff next week. Best way to get your Qs to me is via Twitter, not the comment section. Use the hashtag #RRMailbag, even if it’s not a mailbag Q, as it helps me keep track.
  • Minor Canada Basketball update: Because of hurricane recover in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada’s two FIBA qualifying games in February will both take place in the Bahamas, one against USVI and one against Bahamas. Those games go Feb. 22 and 25.
  • A win tonight would lock Dwane Casey in as a head coach for the 2018 All-Star Game, the first Raptors coach ever to earn that honor. There’s already some good banter going between Casey and his two All-Stars, whom he’ll be coaching against:

  • The Raptors are holding another gameday design contest, and some of the submissions are really good:

  • The NBA announced a new five-pronged plan to improve the relationship between players and referees:

  • MLSE’s Women’s Leadership Forum has another cool event Monday:

The line
The Raptors have held at 8-point favorites most of the day. The over-under nudged from 207.5 to 208.5.

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