Coming off of a tough loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, with six consecutive games against winning teams coming up, and with only a brief one-day reprieve amidst a very arduous schedule, Friday has warning signs all over it. In general, I’m not a big believer in “trap games” for a team that’s 32-2 against losing teams and is yet to drop a game to one at the Air Canada Centre. If there were ever a time, though, this would seem to be it: A Friday night against a plucky Brooklyn Nets team who has twice given them trouble, the lone losing opponent in an extended stretch, on a night when there may be rest coming for some.
For the bulk of the season, the Toronto Raptors have avoided succumbing to these situations. They haven’t lost to a bad team since Boxing Day, and while some of the recent wins have been of the uglier variety, the team is so good and so deep that most of the time, they’ve gotten it done in the end. Even against Brooklyn, they made a comeback to steal one in overtime (costing themselves Kyle Lowry and a game the next night in the process) and another to weather a ridiculous D’Angelo Russell storm.
Both of those games serve as a reminder, though, of how the Nets are built to exploit any listlessness in an opponent. They play hard for Kenny Atkinson, they play fast, and they play a high-variance strategy that might see a guy like Russell explode for the quarter of his life. I mean, not often – the Nets are 23-49 and rank 22nd in offensive efficiency – but twice now they’ve made life difficult on the Raptors. They don’t do anything exceptionally well other than maximizing their shot-spectrum to account for poor shooting, and at the same time they don’t have any eye-popping weaknesses beyond their inability to force turnovers (something that would really help given their youth and speed). You’ve heard this a million times now: The Raptors can’t get caught conserving energy too much, wearing a Cleveland hangover, or looking ahead to a tough stretch of games.
The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
C.J. Miles remains out for this one due to gastroenteritis, an uncomfortable sounding illness that his wife shared some details on the other night on Twitter. He might come back a few pounds lighter, is what I’m saying. The plan behind him should look pretty similar to Wednesday, when his minutes were essentially split across the bench and Norman Powell saw run in the 10th-man role. His absence was felt late in the game when even a hot night from outside saw the Raptors in need of his shooting, and the second unit has generally sputtered a bit on offense without him. The hope is he’s feeling better by Sunday.
This would also seem a reasonable game to get someone some rest, though the team likely won’t announce as much until closer to game time. Serge Ibaka seems a prime candidate on paper, and Jakob Poeltl is the lone Raptor left to have appeared in every game. Given how compressed the schedule has been of late and that there are still two more home games against quality teams before the Raptors have multiple days off – a one-in-five stretch that can’t get here soon enough – this game makes the most sense of any in the next while. We’ll see if they opt to hold someone out or just play it straight and hope for a fourth quarter off for key pieces.
UPDATE: The Raptors aren’t resting anyone.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: C.J. Miles
905: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, Nigel Hayes
Brooklyn will have an actual center for this game, meaning Dante Cunningham doesn’t have to masquerade as one. Quincy Acy might still need to see a few center minutes if Jahlil Okafor is still banished for whatever reason, but Jarrett Allen is in the fold again to start and take on the Jonas Valanciunas assignment. Allen is having a really nice rookie season, averaging 14.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per-36 minutes on 62.9-percent true-shooting, and in theory he should offer more resistance against Valanciunas, who cruised to a 26-and-14 line in just 27 minutes in the last meeting.
In another tweak since the sides last met, Spencer Dinwiddie has been moved to the bench, allowing D’Angelo Russell to start and maintaining some point guard depth. Russell is in a pretty nice groove of late, and having Dinwiddie to lead the second unit is probably a better balance given the Nets’ wing depth. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has also been back in the starting lineup. Of course, Atkinson has been juggling things a lot, anyway, so it’s possible this gets juggled again. As projected, the Nets have some nice switchability and a few different looks to throw at DeMar DeRozan, who has 81 points on 75 used possessions across the three meetings this year.
PG: D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: Allen Crabbe, Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Joe Harris
PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Acy
C: Jarrett Allen, Jahlil Okafor, Timofey Mozgov
OUT: Jeremy Lin
Long Island: Milton Doyle, James Webb III, Isaiah Whitehead
- Kyle Lowry needs two threes to tie and three threes to break his own franchise record for triples in a season. He’s already at 210 on the year.
- Raptors 905 are back from a four-game road trip that saw them clinch a playoff berth, clinch home-court advantage in the first round, and lose out on their chance at a first-round bye. They’ll close their season Saturday at home and could conceivably have all five assignment/two-way guys, since both teams are at home for the weekend.
- Over at The Athletic, I broke down some of the late-game decision making from Wednesday.
- William Lou wrote about the Serge Ibaka situation.
- The Last Two Minute Report from Raptors-Cavaliers shows the following:
- Missed three-in-the-key violation on DeMar DeRozan (1:17)
- And that’s it! A clean sheet. Well done, officials. Or well done, NBA Conspiracy Cover-Up Division. Your choice.
- Will and I will be at Hoop Talks next Wednesday. Get tickets, come say hello. You can use promo code “murphy” for a discount.
This is coming up Wednesday. You can use promo code "murphy" for a discount. https://t.co/nZCUtjGxHS
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 23, 2018
- There’s a new All-Canadian Showcase coming to Hershey Centre on April 23, as reported by Jonathan Givony of ESPN on Friday. This is in addition to the April 9 BioSteel Game. Here is the roster, with poorly formatted heights:
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 23, 2018
The Raptors are 12-point favorites with a 222.5 over-under.