Pre-game news & notes: Anunoby misses 1st game, Powell starts

REVENGE. The Toronto Raptors have an opportunity to even the season series with the Washington Wizards on Friday, and while they won’t be able to erase two John Wall-less losses, they can at least work toward getting Bradley Beal out of their nightmares with a strong showing here. The odd, sometimes-fiery recent history between the two teams usually makes for a pretty fun game, with a good battle at the center positions, some broad roster similarities (at least when healthy), and a pair of high-octane shooting guards liable to go for 30-plus against each other.

What’s more, this one airs on ESPN, so it’s a nice chance for the Raptors’ vaunted bench unit to get some exposure. Few teams were better than the Raptors in February – or have been on the season, really – and the Wizards have been far hotter than a team down an All-Star could be expected to be. The Wizards are in a tight battle for home court and seeding in the East, while the Raptors have a chance to gain a modicum of separation atop the conference with Boston in Houston on Saturday. It’s just one game and all, but both sides figure to be pretty geeked up for it. There are far worse ways to spend a Friday night.

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
OG Anunoby missed shootaround and was spotted (by me, a detective) on some of the players’ social media in a walking boot early in the morning. The boot was later confirmed, though his status remained “doubtful” rather than “out.” He’s not playing here, the first time all year the Raptors will be without him. That’s pretty remarkable for a rookie who wasn’t necessarily expected to be in the rotation right out of the gate this year as he recovered from a torn ACL. The team has been set with him starting for the last 48 games, he owns the second-best net rating of any regular, and his absence will be felt, even if his offense has cooled.

With Anunoby down, there are a few options in his place:

  • Norman Powell. Powell was originally the starter and was jumped by Anunoby when he suffered his own minor injury early. He’s also started each of the two halves Anunoby has missed this year, suggesting he’s the likely call here. For most of the year, Powell has struggled, especially on the offensive end. His defense has been up and down but relatively solid when given an opportunity of late, and the terrible performance of the starters with him in the unit early in the year has turned around in 2018 (a small, 50-minute sample). On paper, he’s the best suited option to guard Bradley Beal. Starting him also maintains continuity for the second unit, not disrupting those rotations or five-man groups at all. The drawback is that Powell is unlikely to play the type of role that could get him going offensively as a starter – his usage rate is criminally low with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both on the floor and he posted a rare 11-trillion stat-line on Wednesday.
  • C.J. Miles. My initial pick for the starting position when Anunoby wasn’t believed to be a part of the equation, some more minutes with Miles playing alongside the starters – the team’s most lethal offensive look, in theory – would be welcomed. The drawback here is two-fold. First, while Miles’ defense has improved over the last month or so, he hasn’t defended up to his standard on the year as a whole, and Beal or Otto Porter would both be tough covers. Second, and perhaps more to Dwane Casey’s thinking, Miles with the starters would disrupt a second unit that is the NBA’s best fivesome at a certain minutes cut-off and by far it’s best fivesome in February. One saving grace here is that the second unit with Powell in Miles’ role has performed pretty well, and Powell can get more touches that way.
  • Delon Wright. This is probably a bit too extreme a change given that Wright doesn’t check off any one box emphatically, but he is somewhat of an in-between for Powell and Miles. He’s long enough to play the two for a matchup like Beal and is one of the team’s better perimeter defenders, and while he doesn’t shoot like Miles, he’s shooting well and is the best ball-handler and creator of the options. Wright-and-starters is an interesting look I’d like to see a bit more of in general as a potential closing group.
  • Malcolm Miller. It’s not going to happen because it would be a large vote of no-confidence in Powell, but Miller can shoot the three and defend the perimeter. At least, he’s done those things very well across two G League seasons and a German season. A non-garbage look at how that translates to the NBA would be welcome at some point. It’s probably not coming here.

This is a lot of words about a situation that may resolve itself by Sunday or Tuesday as the adamantium that flows through Anunoby repairs his sprained ankle.

UPDATE: Anunoby is, in fact, out. Powell starts.

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

Wizards updates
There’s not much to report on the Washington side outside of the notes I provided in the pre-game. And since this post is already far too long for a notes dump, I’ll just direct you there. It’s the fourth meeting, so you probably have a good idea of how this will look – and who the Gerald Henderson candidates are – anyway.

PG: Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions
SG: Bradley Beal, Jodie Meeks
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Chris McCullough
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith
OUT: John Wall
TBD: None
G-League (no affiliate): Devin Robinson


  • Raptors 905 next play Saturday in Wisconsin. Malcolm Miller is with the Raptors while Alfonzo McKinnie and Malachi Richardson are with the 905. Lorenzo Brown is still sidelined for Raptors 905 due to an ankle sprain.
  • Over at The Athletic, I wrote about the Raptors’ improved defense and what’s gone into making them a top-three unit this year.
  • A very good piece from Eric Koreen on Fred VanVleet betting on himself over at The Athletic.
  • Still at The Athletic, Eric and I went over some rotation tweaks and philosophical questions the Raptors need to explore over the last 20 games or so.
  • For what I believe is the first time this year, the Raptors are now favored to win the Atlantic Division. At Bodog, they’re at 2:3 odds, while the Celtics are 6:5. That respect hasn’t held at the conference level, as the Raptors are 15:4 to win the East (5:7 for Cleveland, 3:1 for Boston). The Raptors are 16:1 to win the championship, the fifth-best odds.
  • 538 tallied up the number of blown calls in the last two minutes of games within three points today. I scaled those by the amount of time teams actually spent in those situations for a better gauge. The Raptors come out on the tougher end, ranking sixth in unfortunate calls against per-possession in the sample. A few things worth noting before crying bias:
    • This doesn’t include the number of blown calls that went in favor of a team, only blown calls against. So, it’s not a “net” effect, just one side.
    • There is, uhh, no pattern of logical bias here. Yes, Cleveland has come out favorably. The Warriors and Celtics have not. The Magic have had fewer total blown calls than anyone. Unless the league is doing a tremendous job masking things, this is just a lot of descriptive noise.
    • The sample they used is the sample they used. I’d love to take the time/do the work to pull a more meaningful sample of data, but that’s not something I have the time or scraping chops for, unless I wanted to do it by very tedious means. You’re welcome to go through the team’s L2M history
    • I can’t recall where, but someone did an end-of-season tally for these in previous years, and the Raptors came out on the favorable end of the stick in 2015-16 and about netural for 2016-17.

  • Shouts to Kia Nurse for being named Defensive Player of the Year. She’s tracking quite well to end up as one of the best female basketball players in Canadian history.
  • Will and I are appearing at a Hoop Talks double-feature on March 28 and March 29.

The line
The Raptors are 4-point favorites, up from an opening line of Raptors -3. The over-under is at 217.

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