NBA teams always seem to relish the opportunity to play against a team they just lost to in short order. A week-and-a-half ago, the Toronto Raptors dropped a very winnable game to a Minnesota Timberwolves team that was down Jamal Crawford and Jimmy Butler. While it’s true that the Raptors were on the second night of a back-to-back, they also came out feeling like they could have won that game. They were out-muscled, out-worked on their own glass, and, down the closing stretch, slightly out-executed.
Raptors fans came away from that game thinking largely about the free-throw disparity, one that looked a certain way in a sluggish third quarter. The Raptors, though, sound like a team that realizes a lot of the foul difference was their own doing
“One thing in those situations, you’ve got to do your work early,” head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround “If you’re a half a step late – and I thought that whole night, back-to-back, getting in late, I don’t care what the excuse was – we were a half a step late on everything. Whether it was beating a guy to post position, sliding our feet, beating him to a spot we were late and when you do that you’re definitely going to foul. So we’ve got to be the aggressive team, the anticipating team tonight to get to a spot, to beat them to a post-up. And that we you don’t put yourself in a vulnerable situation as far as where you have to reach and grab and be late.”
Not that the Raptors would still be complaining about the whistle 10 days later. It’s a teaching tool for Casey, with game tape to point to with the aim of riling up the Raptors into a better energy level. They’ll need it – with Butler and Crawford back, the Wolves are even more dangerous, and you know Andrew Wiggins is going to bring his A-Game in Toronto.
How true is that? Consider Wiggins’ game log against the Raptors:
Wiggins is averaging 25.3 points on 59-percent true shooting against the Raptors for his career and 19.9 points on 52.7-percent ture shooting against everyone else. Four of his best 81 games by Game Score have come against Toronto, including his 10th-best outing just before the All-Star break last year. He wasn’t too bad on Jan. 20, either, dominating in the first half before coming back down to earth.
“His aggressiveness, especially coming in this building, I think anytime anybody goes home and plays they try to leave a statement but we can’t allow that to happen,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve got to go out there and be physical from the start, not wait till we watch guys hit a couple shots. We’ve got to come out of the gate and be aggressive.”
The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 4 and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
It’s unclear if Fred VanVleet will be available for this game. Traffic delayed Dwane Casey’s arrival, and VanVleet was not at shootaround due to the birth of his child yesterday. It sounded unlikely then that VanVleet would play, but check back before tip-off for confirmation.
Norman Powell could factor in here, especially if VanVleet is out. He hasn’t played since Wednesday, didn’t play in the last meeting between the sides, and has generally been on the fringes of the rotation for months. We’ve said it a bunch of times here, but it really can’t be forgotten: Powell will probably be needed at some point this year still, maybe in the playoffs, and the Raptors should find him occasional minutes where they can manage to. (There’s also the matter of offseason trade value, a lesser consideration.) These small opportunities have popped up on occasion, and while it’s not an ideal spot for Powell to be able to get a groove going, they’re the windows he has to take advantage of.
Lorenzo Brown could be recalled if the team needs a third point guard, too, though with his remaining days dwindling and a minor shoulder issue lingering, the Raptors might just try their hand with a shortened rotation.
UPDATE: VanVleet is playing.
Casey says papa VanVleet is on the way over, expects him to play tonight after all.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 30, 2018
UPDATE II: C.J. Miles is a surprise scratch due to right knee soreness. Lorenzo Brown is here if needed.
UPDATE III: It’s 7:25 and VanVleet still isn’t here.
UPDATE IV: He’s here!
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: OG Anunoby, Norman Powell
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Alfonzo McKinnie
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: C.J. Miles
905: Bruno Caboclo, Malcolm Miller
Your not going to believe this, but the Timberwolves come in with some tread potentially wearing off the tires. They were in Atlanta on Monday night, losing 105-100 and tasking each of their starters with playing at least 32 minutes. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are young, and they’re also One-Two in the league in total minutes. Jimmy Butler is less young, has missed six games, and still ranks 13th. Taj Gibson is borderline old by NBA standards and ranks sixth. Even Jeff Teague, who missed a fifth of the season, ranks 69th. Not nice, guys.
Will that change on a back-to-back? It’s hard to say. Their injury report is clean, although that was true in the last meeting and Butler and Jamal Crawford were late scratches. This is Butler’s first back-to-back since returning from his break, and the Wolves hadn’t had a back-to-back for a few weeks before that. The Wolves have also done a good job of taking care of business in these scenarios, so the last time they played two games in two nights when Butler couldn’t rest late was a month ago, when he played 85:27. In other words, while logic would dictate a lighter load here, there’s no certainty it happens.
Check back before tip-off to confirm everyone is playing.
UPDATE: All normal for Minnesota.
PG: Jeff Teague, Tyus Jones, Aaron Brooks
SG: Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt
SF: Jimmy Butler, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Taj Gibson, Nemanja Bjelica
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich
Iowa: Justin Patton, Anthony Brown, Amile Jefferson
- Raptors 905 have an 11 a.m. tip at Hershey Centre tomorrow. Expect all four assignees (Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcolm Miller) on-hand, barring an injury tonight.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about Jonas Valanciunas’ improvements all over, how they’re keeping him on the floor, and his adjustment to having a green light on threes. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription here.
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites with a 218.5 over-under. That line is clearly pricing in a battle between two top-five offenses with disregard for Toronto’s No. 3 ranking on the defensive end.