So, here’s the scenario as the Toronto Raptors host the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night:
- Win, and their lead atop the Eastern Conference expands to three games with just four games left for each team. What’s more, the Raptors would lock up the tiebreaker scenarios. It would leave only one way they don’t finish first – if they lose out and Boston wins out.
- Lose, and their lead atop the Eastern Conference shrinks to one game with just four games left for each team. What’s more, the Celtics would lock up the tiebreaker. It would leave a lot of room for the Raptors to slide to second.
Those are the stakes in the tangible realm. If avoiding Cleveland – their win against Toronto on Tuesday improves their likelihood of finishing third – and having home court throughout the East side of the bracket is important to them, Wednesday’s game is huge.
In a far less tangible but perhaps equally important sense, the Raptors could use a win because they’re not playing particularly well, and it would be nice to serve a reminder of that. Their body of work over the entire season is more predictive than this slide in data terms, and the team remains confident that they can steer out of this without much issue. Consistently losing to good teams right before the playoffs start could reasonably shake the confidence, though – this is a team that’s struggled to some degree in three consecutive postseasons, with a young secondary core that is largely untested in that environment.
They are right to believe in their ability to rebound and play more like themselves. It’s better they do it sooner than later, given the choice.
The game tips off at 8 on TSN 4/5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
Toronto will roll out a similar rotation to what they have for the bulk of the year. While they are struggling, there’s been no indication that a major change is coming. The starters are still performing well, and the all-bench unit, while decidedly tailing off, is still one the Raptors want to empower ahead of an interesting playoff experiment in that regard. It’s the in-between lineups – transitional groups, as it were – that have been concerning, as Daniel Hackett went into a bit today at Raptors HQ. Zooming out a step from Dan’s work, here’s how the Raptors have looked in different looks:
- The starters: 756 minutes, +11.1 net rating
- The current all-bench group: 308 minutes, +18.8 net rating
- All other lineups: 2,657 minutes, +5.2 net rating
- Lineups with at least two (current) starters and at least two members of the (current) all-bench group (including Norman Powell): 817 minutes, +5.3 net rating
Basically, the Raptors have killed teams with their starters and bench and been “just” good in all other scenarios. As you slice the sample smaller, there are groups that stand out as positives or negatives, which I’ll refer you to Dan’s piece for detail on. One other thing I wanted to look at, since it’s been a popular topic of conversation lately:
- Valanciunas at C: 1,643 minutes,+5.1 net rating
- Poeltl or Nogueira at C: 1,798 minutes, +9.8 net rating
- Ibaka at C: 261 minutes, +9.6 net rating
There’s relevant context there, as well as a sample size issue, but the Raptors have done pretty well with Ibaka at the five even though I don’t feel it’s necessarily a must-use lineup look for the team as much as others.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
905: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, , Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller
Boston enters as banged-up as they were Saturday, which mattered little. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Gordon Hayward remain sidelined longer-term, and so even with an injury exception, their two-way players, and Xavier Silas signed, they’re running thin. On top of which, Shane Larkin was ruled out due to illness earlier in the day. He hadn’t traveled with the team to Milwaukee but there was said to be a chance he’d meet them in Toronto. That leaves Kadeem Allen as the lone back up to Terry Rozier if Rozier can go, and the lone natural point guard if he can’t. Rozier is dealing with a left ankle sprain that kept him out of Tuesday’s game, leading to big minutes for Allen as a starter and for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford as lead initiators.
The Celtics hanging as tough as they have with all these injuries is commendable. Still, the Raptors should be able to take advantage. Allen, Greg Monroe, Semi Ojeleye, and Abdel Nader all have negative net ratings on the year, and Marcus Morris is about even. The projected starters have a gargantuan plus-23.2 net rating if Rozier can play; if he can’t, Allen has played 13 minutes with that group, and the team without Irving/Rozier/Smart/Larkin on the year has a minus-8.7 net rating in 117 minutes. All of that is to say, the Celtics make nothing easy, but the Raptors should do well if they can stop making things harder on themselves, too.
UPDATE: Rozier plays and starts, per Mark Murphy.
PG: Terry Rozier, Kadeem Allen
SG: Jaylen Brown, Abdel Nader, Jabari Bird, Xavier Silas
SF: Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye
PF: Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Guerschon Yabusele
C: Aron Baynes, Greg Monroe
OUT: Shane Larkin, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, Gordon Hayward
- Raptors 905 won their second-round series against Westchester on Monday and now await an opponent. They’ll visit either Erie for a one-game Eastern Conference Finals on Friday at 8 p.m. Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller, Malachi Richardson, and Alfonzo McKinnie are all on assignment.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about a pet Cavaliers play that gave the Raptors some trouble in the last meeting and should be familiar from recent playoff series.
- I also wrote about the tactical adjustments the Celtics made on Saturday, which will be worth monitoring tomorrow.
- Here’s a nice video feature on Raptors’ assistant coach Rex Kalamian from the NBA Coaches Association:
- A related follow-up from yesterday: Chris Mannix over at Yahoo Sports spoke to executives about potential first-time NBA head coaches on their radar for this summer, when as many as 11 jobs could be open. Nick Nurse was mentioned more than any other name, while Jerry Stackhouse and Rex Kalamian also received votes. All three are integral to the Raptors’ organization, but the challenge of sustained success for a franchise is that other franchises will want to hire away your good people. That’s just a reality, and you want your people to go on to succeed, too. It becomes incumbent on the team, then, to continue to find and develop these talented people to keep the pipeline full.
I would be pretty shocked if both Nurse and Stackhouse aren't heavily in the rumor/interview mill this spring. Nurse has been a head coach in waiting for some time, and it's hard to imagine a more emphatic start to a career than the one Stack has had with 905.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 3, 2018
- Here’s a nice Woj video feature over at ESPN on the Raptors getting to where they are.
- The NBA 2K League had their draft today, with five Canadians being drafted. Raptors Uprising selected Kenneth Hailey with their first-round pick. They also selected Canadian player Yusuf Abdulla in the third round.
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites with a 205 over-under. That’s down slightly from Raptors -7.5 at open and speaks to the even rest situation, home-court advantage, and Boston’s injuries.