Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: VanVleet out again, Anunoby will play

It’s a big swing game in the series Wednesday, as the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards will look to take a small yet statistically commanding 3-2 series lead. Win, and the Raptors have a pair of chances to take the series, including one more at home. Lose, and it’s backs against the wall, a 56-percent swing (historically) in their chances of making it to the second round. The stakes are high, but they always expected this, and it’s part of why they put so much stock in making the Air Canada Centre the toughest place in the NBA to play this year.

“I think we are all upset we lost two games,” Kyle Lowry said Tuesday. “They protected their home floor but we felt we had an opportunity to win both games. In Game 4 we really had an opportunity but we didn’t execute. We didn’t execute. I think going into this game we’re excited, we’re ready to go.”

The two losses have not shaken the team’s confidence in itself and in its system, to hear them tell it. In fact, Game 4 may have, in a backwards way, affirmed the stylistic changes to their approach, as going back to the old ways proved ineffective. After winning 59 games in the regular season and taking the first two games of this series, the Raptors are taking two losses in stride. Confidence in their play and their ball movement, they say, is where it needs to be.

“It shouldn’t waver,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “The long database that we have over the season should transfer over. We’ve been a good, low-turnover team. Why now?”

Wednesday figures to be pretty emotionally charged. The Raptors will do something for the victims of Monday’s tragedy before tip off, and it’s a huge night for the city’s sports scene and its community as a whole. That shouldn’t put undue pressure on the team or anything, but it stands to reason that however the game shakes out, it will be an emotional one.

Game 5 tips off at 7 on NBA TV (Spero Dedes, Mike Fratello, Jared Greenberg) and TSN 1/4/5 on TV and on NewsTalk 1010 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Marc Davis (gahhhh), Mark Ayotte, and John Goble.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 5, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
Fred VanVleet is out once again.He got some shooting in Monday and practiced Tuesday, and he went through a pretty rigorous pre-game workout testing the shoulder out. Not only was he shooting, he was working on firing hard cross-court passes with his right arm, fighting through screens from coaches, and driving into and finishing through contact. There’s a risk of re-injury for a few weeks still, and it’s just a matter of pain tolerance, range of motion, and finding a comfort level around those risks against a very physical team. Ultimately, the medical staff decided to hold him out again, per Dwane Casey. I caught up with VanVleet a bit before the game, and he’s really trying to get back out there. It’s obviously a tough sport to be in.

OG Anunoby is going to play. There was never really much concern he’d sit since he didn’t miss any practice time and was never on the injury report, but the ankle roll from Sunday made it worth asking. The

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

Wizards updates
Washington was talking a lot at shootaround about getting out to better starts. The Raptors have taken a big lead in the first quarter of each game, putting the Wizards in tough holes to climb out of. A big part of that has been Toronto’s starting lineup out-performing Washington’s, and a look at the most common matchups from the series so far highlight that the Raptors are doing their damage on the offensive end. Four of the team’s five starters have a higher point per-possession than expected, though it’s notable that two supplementary starters are having their touches limited a bit at the top of halves, running a bit antithetical to how Toronto wants to attack.

The Raptors’ starters aren’t defending horribly – the defensive issues have primarily been with transitional lineups – and they’re doing as good a job limiting Washington’s role players as Washington is theirs. The series has essentially turned into the two star duos trying to beat each other when the starting lineups play, with Marcin Gortat and Jonas Valanciunas both chipping in with offense-first performances.

There may not be many changes to Washington’s rotation. They’ve pretty clearly settled on a role for eight players, with Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi playing first-half roles and then taking a backseat to heavy second-half minutes for the starters. While there are no more two-day breaks in the series to get extra rest, the leverage is also much higher here later in the series, so it’s unlikely the star usage changes.

PG: John Wall, Ty Lawson, Tim Frazier
SG: Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Jason Smith
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi
TBD: None
OUT: Jodie Meeks
INACTIVE: Ramon Sessions, Chris McCullough

Pre-game news and notes

  • Dwane Casey was asked whether the Wizards did anything specific to take the Raptors out of their 3-point shooting, and his response backs up what I saw upon rewatch: That it was a lot of hesitation and not so much a paucity of chances to fire. Here’s his quote: “They switched a little bit more which still, we looked at it numerous time, we still had 10 to 12 opportunities to pull threes that we normally do and for whatever reason we hesitated. Again, I’m not taking anything away from their defense, but we still had some open looks we’ve gotta take. We’ve done it all year, so we can’t change.”
    • Scott Brooks, meanwhile, thinks the Wizards have done a better job of running the Raptors off the line without allowing straight-line drives as a trade-off.
  • Casey also acknowledged that the spacing was messed up a bit in the second half of Game 4, something I highlighted here. That’s a matter of lineup construction, play recognition and execution, and guys continuing to move once an initial action takes place. In terms of comparison, Casey highlighted Game 2 as the team’s most balanced offensive game.
  • I caught a lot from the Wizards at shootaround, particularly about the fouling and physicality in the series and the Raptors’ hot starts.
  • Brooks was asked if momentum exists in a series: “Ask me again after the game.” He did concede that he’d rather be on the side having won two straight than lost two straight, which is not exactly shocking.

Assorted

  • I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
  • Related, here are the T-shirts for Game 5:

  • Serge Ibaka is dressed like Jack Skellington tonight.

  • Gates open at 5 for today’s viewing party in Jurassic Park/Maple Leaf Square, which will be shared with Leafs and Toronto FC fans. I’m done trying to stop the tears for the people who seem unable to handle this entirely reasonable and potentially very fun compromise about the space on what could be a really cool night for the city’s sports scene. If you have a problem with it, I think it says a lot more about you than the situation.
  • The Raptors intend to show the Leafs game on the screen at the Air Canada Centre following the conclusion of the Raptors game. With a 7:02 tip time for Raptors-Wizards and a 7:30 puck drop for Leafs-Bruins, fans in attendance will probably get the crucial moments of the Leafs game in before leaving, if they chose to.

The line
Game 1: Raptors -8 (Series Raptors -630) (Raptors 114, Wizards 106)
Game 2: Raptors -7 (Series Raptors -800) (Raptors 130, Wizards 119)
Game 3: Wizards -1.5 (Series Raptors -1600) (Wizards 122, Raptors 103)
Game 4: Raptors -2 (Series Raptors -650) (Wizards 106, Raptors 98)
Game 5: Raptors -7
Series: Raptors -340 (implied probability of 77.3 percent)

The Raptors have held as 7-point favorites all day with a 216 over-under. The line returning to the same point as Game 2 points to how confidence in the market hasn’t necessarily been shaken by the two games in Washington, and the Raptors remain strong favorites to win the series (not to mention standing among the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference). Something tells me this won’t ease the nerves of some.

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