Danny Green and the Raptors carry on from Miami to Orlando for some land-locked basketball. The Raptors arriving ahead of Green, as he had to book a private flight to fit his massive balls into. Providing late game heroics for the second time this year – third if you count his defense on Victor Oladipo – and repeatedly forcing the “throw-in” jokes into conversation. The Raptors, who struggled mightily with the size of Hassan Whiteside, now have to try their hand at slowing down Nikola Vucevic. Potential All-Star – should be a shoe-in – Serge Ibaka looks to take on an impressive front-court in the Magic.
While both Whiteside and Vucevic cause matchup problems, they do so in different ways. Ibaka should be able to play a defensive style that isn’t as likely to be punched in the face from the likes of Vucevic. Ibaka has been terrific all year long on the defensive end, largely because of his ability to compete with smaller, faster players. The Whiteside matchup provided an intense physical challenge for Ibaka, a tidal wave that swept him up. Last time out, Ibaka limited Vucevic to 12 shots on 50 possessions – he made 6 – and never let Vucevic find a rhythm in the mid-range.
Vucevic did collect a whopping 18 boards, but Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard have both been far more active on the defensive glass of late. There’s always a chance for weird things to happen, though. For example, Leonard went 0-6 from the left side of the floor and 7-9 from the right side last time out against the Magic. But a good defensive showing from Ibaka has all the potential in the world to slow Vucevic to a satisfactory degree.
Despite his fantastic game winner, Green’s game against the Magic was actually one of his worst of the year. Evan Fournier repeatedly ran him off screens and out foxed him on the back-side of the defense. Green has a chance to avenge that defensive performance and help cut the legs out from the Magic’s offense with Ibaka.
On offense we might expect a very healthy dose of Leonard with Kyle Lowry out for the second consecutive game. In addition to that, Leonard had one of his five sub-20 point performances of the year so far. Even though Leonard is far from petty in the NBA landscape there’s plenty of competitive fires to find warmth in. I’ll be looking for a scoring explosion from the Raptors resident MVP candidate.
The Siakam and Gordon matchup is certainly one to watch for. Both players offensive games have tapered some in the month of December. Gordon has taken on a significant chunk of the shot-creation in Orlando and his shooting has taken a dive as a result. Over 60-percent of his makes in December are unassisted, a stark contrast from the near 40-percent rates of October and November. Siakam on the other hand is adjusting to a league that seems to have adjusted to him. Often times in the first legs of the game we’ll see him force up awkward shots as he struggles to get to his spots. His late game play has still been terrific as teams start to focus on Leonard. It’s been a few times that we’ve seen Siakam struggle all game just to steal the ball and bust loose for a game-changing play in the 4th.
Fred VanVleet looks to start the game in Lowry’s stead and keep the ball-rolling. He’s been a decent stand-in – considering what he’s trying to replace – and the Raptors have been happy to give him the minutes. On the other side, former Raptor Terrence Ross will be looking to impact the game in a serious way. Ross, who’s averaging career highs in 3-pointers made per game, points per game, and field goal percentage looks to be a prime candidate for a trade to a contender in February. For now, the Raptors will have to march out a mix of Green, VanVleet, Delon Wright and Norman Powell to chase him off screens.
Most of the fanbase has a fixed eye on Powell since his return. His play has been measured and explosive at the same time, a mix he’s been trying to find for a large portion of his career. His creativity as a tertiary playmaker and scorer has been welcomed with open arms as he seems to have supplanted CJ Miles from his role with the ‘Bench Mob’. Even with Lowry out, the Raptors look to start a win streak of their own after snapping the Heat’s and there’s no reason they can’t. Looking for a big game from Ibaka and Leonard tomorrow, let the good times roll.
TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN1050 | Tipoff: 7pm EST
Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) is out until at least mid-January, Kyle Lowry (back) isn’t available, and Chris Boucher (ankle) is questionable.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
Timofey Mozgov (knee) is out with no timetable for return.
PG: DJ Augustin, Jerian Grant, Isaiah Briscoe
SG: Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross
SF: Jonathan Isaac, Jonathon Simmons, Wesley Iwundu
PF: Aaron Gordon, Jarell Martin, Khem Birch
C: Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba
Have a blessed day.