After a sobering night against ‘The Beard’ and co. in Houston, the Raptors travel to Dallas to take on the Mavericks. Against the Rockets, the Raptors played with a general malaise, and the Rockets stingy and disciplined defense made them pay for it. It was the Raptors third game in four nights, but altogether, still disappointing. Awaiting them today, the wunderkind Luka Doncic, an extra springy point guard in Dennis Smith Jr. and rakishly handsome Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki. Oh yes, and a man who used to jump high often, but now less so, Deandre Jordan.
I have a deep reverence for the Raptors fanbase, so I expect that most people who watch this game are excited to see Doncic. The NBA’s clutch king of this season so far, and a player that makes analysts and players alike reconsider what a successful physical profile for a wing player looks like. Players like Nikola Jokic and Kyrie Irving who mix vision, touch and incredible balance are showcasing really well this year, and those are Doncic’s greatest strengths. Having officially moved into the 20-5-5 club as a rookie, there’s plenty of time for him to build his resume into something closer to LeBron James than Tyreke Evans. Not that Doncic will be anywhere close to James, just hopefully better than Evans.
The Mavericks are looking to punch their way up through the brutally deep Western Conference, looking up at teams like the Clippers and Lakers – neither of which will be getting Kawhi Leonard in the offseason. Speaking of the Lakers, since they won’t be getting Leonard, I wanted to highlight two young players I think would be fun on their team. I’ve photoshopped them into Lakers jerseys for conceptual symmetry:
Could you imagine these two on the Lakers? Wow, tons of fun. A boy can dream.
Jokes aside, the Raptors match up fairly well with the Mavericks. Luka Doncic will have to deal with one of Pascal Siakam or Leonard for most of the night. Lowry, in-spite of all his limitations, seems to get the better of young point guards with incredible regularity. Considering that Smith Jr. is a fairly indifferent defender and Jordan’s defense has fallen off a cliff in recent years, the Lowry-Ibaka pick n’ roll could be extremely dangerous tonight.
One of the keys in this game will be the back-side of the defense when Doncic or Smith Jr. gets downhill during the pick n’ roll. Harden cut up the Raptors defense, but wasn’t directly credited with it. Harden was fairly poor from the field (9-25) and only had 7 assists. The Raptors were beat on the latter half of the Rockets offensive motion. Side-top-side action, or even side-top action defeated the Raptors. The Rockets shot an abysmal 10-46 from downtown, but they were lethal attacking close-outs. The Raptors have to be able to contain the Doncic pick n’ rolls to him and his partner.
If Leonard/Siakam and Ibaka can make it a 2-man game, instead of demanding a great deal of help from the weak-side, the Raptors can have a good game defensively. Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are no slouches from downtown and will hit with regularity if the Raptors concede those shots. Make Doncic hit the in-between shots, the floaters and turnaround jumpers. Sit on his right hand and allow Ibaka to lurk in the paint, denying the lob. Outstanding initial defense will make it so Ibaka doesn’t have to leave his feet, and he’ll be able to properly patrol the rim and Jordan. Is there a chance Doncic makes some absurd shots? Yes, but I think this could be a really good defensive game-plan for the Raptors.
With Danny Green’s status unclear, it’s likely that we’ll see Fred VanVleet back in the starting line-up in his stead. Hopefully we’ll see lots of off-ball VanVleet and a far more nuanced mix of Lowry-Leonard possessions. Nurse has seemed to be fairly uninventive when it comes to supplying Leonard with offense this year, and sometimes downright negligent. The key in this game -and moving forward – is keeping the opposing team on their toes about who will be the initiator. Leonard isn’t an otherworldly playmaker, but he’s not a blackhole. There’s plenty of Siakam-Leonard screen opportunities to be had, either one of them capable of attacking. Last but not least, if Lowry is going to be operating as the de-facto playmaker, more of his plays have to be made for Leonard. Ibaka and Valanciunas love the dimes he’s been dropping this year, but it would be really nice to see Lowry finding Leonard above the break for a triple, or eyeing him on a basket cut.
TV: TSN | Radio: TSN1050 | Tipoff: 7pm EST. All odds can be found on https://openodds.com/odds/.
Danny Green (left hand) is uncertain for Sunday’s contest, and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb) remains out.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, CJ Miles, Patrick McCaw
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
JJ Barea (achilles) is out for the remainder of the season.
PG: Dennis Smith Jr., Jalen Brunson, Devin Harris
SG: Wesley Matthews, Ryan Broekhoff
SF: Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith
PF: Harrison Barnes, Maxi Kleber
C: Deandre Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Powell, Salah Mejri
This is a relatively important game for the Raptors, as far as January games go. As of Saturday afternoon, the rest of the top-6 in the Eastern Conference has combined for 22 wins in a row, the Raptors can’t drop three consecutive. Hopefully we’ll all have a good bit of fun watching Doncic and Leonard go at it.
Have a blessed day.