The Houston Rockets have won zero consecutive games. The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are winners of seven straight, tying the third-longest winning streak in franchise history. This is happening with alarming regularity – they were on a seven-game winning streak right before this one, too, and have a pair of six-gamers on their record. They’re an overtime loss to Milwaukee from 15 in a row. The Raptors have not, however, had a run of success longer than this one. There is a window to extend here, and while their focus is on bigger things than regular-season winning streaks, there is the No. 1 seed to worry about, something they have a 2.5-game grasp on (Boston hosts Indiana today).
Standing in the Raptors way are the New York Knicks. And a 1 pm tip time in New York following the clocks moving ahead. And possibly some let-down after such a huge win on Friday. The Raptors haven’t failed to meet the call often this year, but I’d imagine several people will be in the comments or my mentions this morning warning of a trap game. They’re all trap games when you’re a top-three team in the league. The Knicks are legitimately a mess, losers of six in a row and 14 of 15 and a bottom-10 team on both ends of the floor. Even with a bit of early let-down, the Raptors should be able to handle business as they do.
The game tips off at 1 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.
Blake Murphy: The Knicks got bad a little too late to join the tank brigade in earnest. Maybe they can make a late push, but failing lottery luck, how will the remainder of the season be evaluated for New York?
Joseph Flynn: The coaching staff is finally getting around to playing the younger guys (though not in the right lineups), so hopefully those youngsters will show us something these next few weeks.
Blake Murphy: Since Kristaps Porzingis went down (sigh), the Knicks are 1-11. Not that they were particularly good before, but does this kind of highlight just how important Porzingis is to the franchise and just how much he was lifting their play? Why has it been so difficult without him?
Joseph Flynn: One thing that Kristaps’ injury has shown is just how valuable he is on defense. With him the Knicks were mediocre; since he’s been gone, they’ve been an unrelenting train wreck.
Blake Murphy: How has the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment been going so far? A worthwhile flier, I’m sure. Any signs of intrigue?
Joseph Flynn: Emmanuel Mudiay has been quite bad for the Knicks. Frank Ntilikina has been better, but the coach doesn’t like starting him at point guard for whatever reason. It’s probably for the better, as the Knicks’ bench is a more cohesive unit than the starters these days.
Blake Murphy: Michael Beasley: Greatest Knick ever, or only one of the greatest?
Joseph Flynn: Last week Beasley set an NBA record for “laziest performance in a game after calling out your teammates.”
Blake Murphy: Frank Ntilikina’s offense has been slow to come around, grading as well behind his defense. Is he at least showing progress there? Does he project as only a one-way impact for the foreseeable future?
Joseph Flynn: One consistent thing about the Knicks over the years is that their coaches are terrible and they don’t develop young players. I’d like to see Frank get stronger this summer and start fresh next season with some better coaching. Knowing the Knicks, however, they’ll probably fire Jeff Hornacek and replace him with the most mediocre retread option available.
With so few practices of late, there’s not a lot of clarity on the two injured Raptors. Toronto couldn’t practice Thursday due to the back-to-back and opted not to Saturday to catch an early flight to New York, and so there’s been no opportunity for firm updates on Delon Wright and OG Anunoby. Both are listed as doubtful on the injury report, though. Wright sprained the big toe on his right foot Tuesday, tried to play Wednesday and couldn’t, then sat Friday. Anunoby, meanwhile, has missed five consecutive games with a sprained right ankle and bone bruise.
Who starts for Anunoby is still a daily question, with Norman Powell or Malcolm Miller figuring to slot in. Powell started the last two games, with Wednesday standing as his best all-around performance in some time, while Miller has consistently provided solid minutes given the circumstances. Since Feb. 28, the game Anunoby got injured midway through, Miller has a net rating of plus-8.3 in 50 minutes while Powell’s is plus-2.6 in 98 minutes. Nigel Hayes is also with the Raptors for depth at the forward spots, having re-joined the team later Saturday after his Raptors 905 debut. Wright’s absence is a little easier to account for – whichever of Powell or Miller doesn’t start will slide into Wright’s role with the second unit.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Nigel Hayes
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: OG Anunoby, Delon Wright
905: Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie
The Knicks are the Knicks, and they enter play here dealing with only a few minor questions. One is whether Courtney Lee, expected back with the team, rejoins the starting lineup or if Frank Ntilikina continues to get the start alongside Emmanuel Mudiay. Lee makes more sense opposite DeMar DeRozan in a vacuum, but the Knicks should be focused on developing now, and of their moderately intriguing young pieces, three are point guards. It makes sense to play them together heavily and see what works.
Whatever they go with, the starting lineup without Jarrett Jack (moved to the bench) and Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) won’t have much experience together – the Knicks’ most commonly used lineup available here has played 89 minutes together, and unless they’re going to start Jack, that will be a small-minutes look. The projected starters listed below, as listed on the Knicks’ game notes, are a minus-11 in 38 minutes as a group. There are few “good” Knicks lineups with Porzingis out. It’s a little depressing.
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Jarrett Jack
SG: Frank Ntilikina, Courtney Lee, Damyean Dotson
SF: Tim Hardaway, Troy Williams
PF: Lance Thomas, Michael Beasley, Isaiah Hicks
C: Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn, Luke Kornet
OUT: Kristaps Porzingis, Ron Baker, Joakim Noah
The Raptors are 9.5-point favorites with a 218 over-under.