Pre-game news & notes: Porter out for the series, VanVleet available

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The Toronto Raptors don’t want to come back home for a Game 7. Two years ago, they learned how difficult that situation is. Twice. Last year, they set out to avoid it, ultimately winning a series in fewer than the maximum games for the first time in franchise history. The flow of their series with the Washington Wizards has been much different than against the Milwaukee Bucks, and still the Raptors have the same aim on the road for Game 6: End it here. There are better reasons to go home than because you have to.

“I think we just got tired of Game 7s and the headache that comes with that,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround Friday. “But understanding the importance of a Game 6, being able to close it out. I think we’re at a point now where we really understand the importance of it, and not wanting to go home. This is a great opportunity for us to get it out of the way and move on.”

In order to do that, the Raptors will have to play much better than they did in Washington earlier in the series, when they were blown out in Game 3 and completely lost themselves down the stretch of Game 4. The home side has won each game in the series so far – the Wizards have won eight consecutive home playoff games and 11 of their last 13 – and while they say no series begins until one team wins on the road (or however John Wall mis-spoke this phrase the other night), the Raptors could technically drop Friday’s game and still be fine. They’re trying to avoid that backs-against-the-wall situation, and over the last few days, head coach Dwane Casey has sounded very confident in his team’s ability to play more to form this time around.

If you’ve got to talk about sense of urgency, or toughness or whatever, we shouldn’t be here, if you don’t bring that in this building,” he said. “I’m sure our guys will bring that tonight, no doubt in my mind we’re going to bring that sense of urgency, the mental toughness that you have to have to close out a series.”

It sure would be preferable to a Game 7, especially with the potential for a few extra days off if Indiana can force a Game 7 against Cleveland. (If both series end tonight, Game 1 goes Sunday; otherwise, any necessary Game 7s go Sunday and Game 1 would likely fall on Tuesday.) The only thing the Raptors can control in that scenario, for now, is their own play here.

Game 6 tips off at 7 on ESPNN and NBA TV (Dave Pasch, Doris Burke, Cassidy Hubbarth) and Sportsnet One on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are James Capers, Sean Corbin, Zach Zarba.

Note: I’m not on the road, so thanks to the other Raptors beat people for passing along quotes/transcrip

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 6, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
Fred Van Vleet is available for this one after missing the last three games, Game 1, and all but three minutes of Game 2 with a right should sprain. VanVleet was close to playing in Game 5, going through a rigorous pre-game workout and testing his shoulder out through several contact drills, but the medical staff ultimately decided to keep him out one game longer. The Raptors aren’t entirely sure how he’ll look – the tentativeness with which he played his Game 2 cameo can’t really be predicted until he’s out there, though his shooting has mostly been fine and grown relatively comfortable – but they’ll try to get him a few minutes, anyway.

“I don’t know what to expect, but we’ll get him in,” Casey said.

It would make sense to slot VanVleet in to his usual spot with the all-bench unit atop the second quarter since those are the lowest difficulty minutes in the game (the only time both John Wall and Bradley Beal sit together, usually). He’ll likely have a quick hook again, and if he plays well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push toward double-digit minutes and even see time early in the fourth if the game is in a comfortable spot and the Raptors don’t want to use Kyle Lowry for the entire fourth. Realistically, this may be as much about getting VanVleet a few reps ahead of a Game 7 or a second-round series, and his second-half role will likely depend on the game situation.

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

Wizards updates
Washington received some very bad news on Friday, as Otto Porter is out for the series. Porter had been dealing with a left lower-leg contusion and soreness in that area since late in the regular season, and head coach Scott Brooks was unsure if he’d play in Game 6. Per Candace Buckner of The Washington Post, doctors did not like the build up of blood and restricted blood flow in his leg and he’s undergoing a small procedure to try to alleviate the issue. Porter is not only out tonight but would miss Game 7 if there were one. It’s probably for the best for Porter to get this lingering issue taken care of, even in the playoffs, because he’s been noticeably off and it sounds from a Wizards release like it had the potential to cause further damage.

Porter’s been pretty clearly limited by the injury throughout the series, and still it looms as a massive loss. He was a top-five 3-point shooter for a second consecutive year this season, is often tasked with guarding an opponent’s best individual scorer, and is generally the type of two-way role player good teams need around their stars. During the regular season, the Wizards outscored opponents by five points per-100 possessions when he was on the court and were out-scored by 6.1 points per-100 possessions when he sat, easily the biggest positive swing on the team. They’ve been better with him off the court in this series, but that’s mostly because Toronto’s starters have been much more effective (no Wizards starter has a positive net rating). Porter had also spent 151 possessions guarding DeMar DeRozan in the series, and while again, he hasn’t been himself, that responsibility having to be redistributed is important.

“Otto has a great impact for us. He does everything, all the little things that that might not see if you were watching the game, cutting to the basket, making extra effort plays, making shots for us,” John Wall said. “You can tell when OP’s healthy, and when he’s not slashing and cutting to the basket, you can tell he’s dealing with something. He’s probably been dealing with it for a while, but he’s been going out there and giving us everything he’s got as a teammate, and we respect and appreciate that as much as possible.”

Kelly Oubre figures to start, and he’s actually had a pretty solid defensive series. Whether that can hold up in a starting-size role is yet to be seen, and he’s not quite the 3-point shooter that Porter is. More than just the starting tweak, this will reverberate in the second unit – Oubre is now Washington’s only natural wing, and their bench is essentially all combo-bigs and point guards. Tomas Satoransky might finally have a role sliding up a spot now, and the Wizards probably figure to play some dual-point guard lineups with Bradley Beal sliding to the three. They could even get really big, in theory. And they’re out a potential closing lineup (Oubre at the three, Porter at the four) that could have spaced the Raptors out and dared them to downsize. Whatever the case, this is a difficult spot for them to be in. Porter’s great, and hopefully he can get right for 2018-19.

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

Pre-game news and notes

  • Dwane Casey was asked how he keeps calm and suggested he’s like a duck, where he’s calm on top and paddling furiously underwater. Unrelated to Casey, ducks and geese have come up a lot in conversations I’ve had this week. It’s been weird.
  • Scott Brooks mentioned finding more minutes for Mike Scott in this one and suggested Ty Lawson and Tomas Satoransky would probably see role increases in Otto Porter’s absence, along with, obviously, Kelly Oubre.
  • We covered the Oubre-Delon Wright non-feud yesterday, but oh boy did Oubre take it up a notch at shootaround on Friday.
    • First, he tried to downplay his comments: “Obviously the story sounds sexier when I say that he doesn’t play well at home so that’s the story that made the headlines. At the end of the day, he’s a great player. He’s been playing really well this season and this playoff series especially. And he’s in my draft class so why wouldn’t I want him to succeed?”
    • Cool, totally reasonable. And then: “I’m not trying to do this psychological warfare. He can take it very personally, but at the end of the day if you want to go to war I’m the wrong person to go to war against, because if I die I’mma come back to life and kill you.”
    • Alright. So it ain’t that serious and it was misconstrued but you’re going to literally murder the man. I’m all for trash-talk and I’m a big Oubre fan, but this is a bit much even for him. Also, there’s gotta be some sort of discipline for threatening literal murder, right? If this goes seven, Oubre is going to find his way onto a Drake track at this rate.
  • A good one from Casey on turning the ball over and fueling Washington’s transition attack: “If we do turnover, make sure we throw it up in the 15th row, that way we can get back and get our defense set.”
  • DeMar DeRozan speaking for all of us: “OG is a special individual. I love him.”
  • More DeRozan goodness, on why role players are better on the road: “I mean, I think it’s kind of like a natural kind of thing. You’ll walk around at home in your drawers. That doesn’t mean you’ll feel comfortable going to your friend’s house and doing the same thing. I don’t know where the hell that came from. I just thought it was a cool.”


  • I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
  • The Raptors have the fifth-best title odds right now at 19:2 and the second-best odds to get out of the East at 9:5.
  • The viewing party in Maple Leaf Square opens up at 5 p.m.

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) (Raptors 108, Wizards 98)
Game 6: Raptors -1.5
Series: Raptors -800 (implied probability of 88.9 percent)

How important is Otto Porter to the Wizards? They opened as 1.5-point favorites in this one and the line has swung to Raptors -1.5 over the course of the day. Toronto, then, is not only an immense favorite to win the series but a slight favorite to get it done here. The Raptors have covered in two games and pushed in one, with Washington covering in the other two meetings. The over-under here is 214.5, down from the last few games after the two sides began figuring out how to better defend each other.

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