Finally, after a long summer, the return of Raptors basketball comes Saturday night from Vancouver. There has been a lot of change since the last time we saw the team on the court, from the departure of Dwane Casey to the trade bringing in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and there’s been a fair amount of speculation over what this team will look like when they finally hit the court. It’s just the preseason, but there should be some answers provided, or at least some basketball to watch, when this game tips off.
All eyes will be on Kawhi Leonard in this game as he makes his return from the injury that sidelined him most of last season, as this will be the first indication of whether he has fully recovered and can be the MVP-level player he was prior to getting hurt. Thus far, all reports have said that he’s healthy and ready to go, but this will be the first game test for the former 2-time Defensive Player of the Year.
For the Raptors, it will be interesting to see how Nurse manages his lineups. The Raptors have a deep roster and can go to some interesting wing heavy lineups with Leonard, Anunoby, and Green sharing the floor together, or with CJ Miles or Norman Powell in the place of one of those players, or go smaller with a lineup featuring multiple point guards, where Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright could be used in a pairing or all three share the floor together, and the team also has a healthy compliment of big men. This has been the subject of many summertime articles, and it’ll be nice to get a look at what Nurse’s preferred looks are, and how much of an increased emphasis the Raptors have on their outside shooting, something that has been said to be a focus of Nurse’s in the past.
Defensively, Toronto should be a very switchable team, and it’ll be interesting to see how they choose to guard Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, whether they attempt to take advantage of that flexibility to switch most screens. As well, what the team chooses as their initial assignments may provide a glimpse into how Nurse is looking to use each player at that end of the floor into the season.
The Trailblazers were a surprise as the third seed in the West last season, and will be looking to follow that up with another strong campaign. Their roster should look very similar to the team they fielded last season, but they do need to integrate newcomer Seth Curry into the offense, who they’ll be looking to in order to provide an offensive punch off the bench. As well, they need to find someone to step in and replace former Raptor Ed Davis who left this summer in free agency, and who was important to the Blazers last season. Lillard is coming off a First Team All-NBA nod a season ago, and took a gigantic leap forward in that season at both ends of the floor, and will be an intriguing player to watch this season.
While the focus will be on the bigger names in this game, how Leonard and Kyle Lowry fit together, where new coach Nick Nurse chooses to use OG Anunoby and Green, and how he combines players to look for lineups that will work as we move towards the season, there will also be players fighting for spots at the back end of each roster as well, as is always the case in the preseason. If previous preseason games are any indication, expect two to three quarters of what might feel like a real NBA game, if a little slower and sloppier as everyone re-adjusts to game pace, followed by a fourth quarter that involves the coaches trying to find out what they have in players fighting for roster spots.
The Raptors should be healthy coming into this game, and as of Friday night no one is known to be sitting out this game. As long as that doesn’t change, Kawhi Leonard will be making his first appearance since January 13th. I’ll update into Saturday if further information is released.
This will be the first of five preseason games for the Raptors, who play next on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz.
Maurice Harkless will be out for this game with a knee injury he suffered heading into the playoffs last season, but otherwise, Portland should also be healthy going into this game.
This will be the first of five preseason games for the Trailblazers as well, who’s next preseason outing is Friday against Phoenix.