The Raptors will finish out their four-game west coast swing on Wednesday night with a visit to the Sacramento Kings, who are off to their best start in years after going 6-4 in their first ten games of the season.
The Kings are a perennial bottom dweller in recent NBA history, and were largely projected to have a similar season this year but have surprised by jumping out to a winning record despite playing 7 of their first 10 games on the road while leading the NBA in pace. Sacramento comes into this game after a four-game road trip of their own to the east coast, where they went 3-1 with the lone loss a defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night.
Sacramento is lead this season by De’Aaron Fox, the second year guard who is following up a largely disappointing rookie campaign with a huge step forward in his sophomore season, and Buddy Hield who is suddenly looking like the player Sacramento thought he could be when they named him as the centerpiece in the DeMarcus Cousins trade two seasons ago. Hield is shooting 48% from three-point range on five attempts a game this year, and slowing him down will be a defensive focal point for the Raptors on Wednesday night. The second overall pick in last June’s draft, Marvin Bagley III, has also had a strong part to his season, averaging 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game coming off the bench for Sacramento.
On Monday night in Utah, the Raptors had their most complete performance of the season, with strong contributions up and down the roster to dominate a talented Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back. Toronto is undefeated thus far on their road trip, and now has a record of 3-1 in games where Kawhi Leonard isn’t active this season. Leonard is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game, and Nick Nurse is clearly playing the long game here, choosing not to gamble with Kawhi’s health in the short term, focused instead on the playoff run at the end of the season.
In Kawhi’s absence, Kyle Lowry gave yet another dominating performance with 21 points and 15 assists, and he clearly dictated the game at both ends of the court in the critical moments. Lowry has had his best start to a season as a Raptor and he’s clearly found his comfort running more of the offense in years past and he’s kept his teammates involved, finding ways to get them shots where they’re at their most comfortable. Serge Ibaka also had another great game, going 8/8 from the field before fouling out after shooting 15/17 the night before in Los Angeles, and Jonas Valanciunas, who got the start at center, contributed 11 points himself.
Despite their strong start to the season, most of the Kings’ wins are over teams with losing records, and they may come into this game looking to pick up a signature victory and force respect for their record and talent. At the end of a long road trip for the Raptors, this could have the makings of a trap game, but thus far this season Nurse has had the answers most of the time and has been able to have his team prepared for the challenge each game offered.
TV: TSN1, TSN4, and TSN5
Kawhi Leonard is once again listed as questionable after missing the back-to-back in Los Angeles and Utah, and will likely be a game-time decision once again. Norman Powell is also out for this game with a shoulder subluxation and may miss some time.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Delon Wright, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
Bogdan Bogdanovic has yet to play this season, but was originally targeting this game for his return although he’s listed as doubtful, after missing the first 10 games of the season with a knee injury.
PG: De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason III, Yogi Ferrell
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson, Troy Williams
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos
The line opened at -8.5 for the Raptors.