The Toronto Raptors (37-16) take on the Los Angeles Clippers (29-24) this afternoon in the second and final iteration of the Kawhi-Bowl. The game will take place as an appetizer to the Super Bowl, as the NBA kindly did not schedule anything against the monster event.
It’s hard to know who the Raptors are right now. They’re playing worse basketball than at any other point in the season, and almost every column in Toronto after the Bucks loss was about their lack of identity. Who are they? Are they staggering? Are they fine? It’s hard to tell. Despite some heroics from Pascal Siakam, they have lost three of their last four, including a frustrating no-show against the Bucks that was supposed to be a clash of heavyweights. Over their last few weeks, Toronto is certainly not playing up to expectations. The starting lineup has been quite bad for quite a long time, as I recognized in my Bucks recap:
The starting unit that opened the season setting scoring records seems to have stalled out. In fact, since December 1, the starting lineup of Lowry-Green-Leonard-Siakam-Ibaka that blitzed the league over the first few months has been outscored by 22 points in 181 minutes while shooting only 30.6 percent from deep. The issue is at least acknowledged by the team.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are on a bit of an upswing. They’ve won four of their last six, averaging 114.7 points per game. Their offence has been pinging the ball around with abandon, and they’ve gotten scoring contributions from a variety of different sources. When Tobias Harris has trouble scoring, Lou Williams picks up the slack. Williams is coming off of a 39-point eruption against the Detroit Pistons. After a tough stretch from Canadian rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he has rediscovered his form and provides the Clippers a boost off the bench. His silky game is always fun to watch.
The Raptors beat the Clippers last time around, as Leonard did not suit up. It was one of Toronto’s best games of the season. That Toronto has played perhaps better with Leonard on the sidelines has been something of an issue for the team. They’ve still been quite effective with Leonard in the lineup, so it’s not like we’re talking about a disaster. Still, this game will be yet another opportunity for the Raptors to get their stars in better sync. With over half the season gone and chemistry not close to peaking, every game is important.
I’m probably overreacting. Toronto is 37-16, so it’s quite difficult to criticize the team in general. They have won a boatload of games. It’s tough to use the phrase ‘right the ship’ when the team is clearly still a title contender. So let’s say this game is more of an opportunity to settle old scores against Lawrence Frank and other executives who want to steal Leonard from the Raptors. The fact that the Raptors get a chance to add a tally to the win total is only the cherry on top. The game tips at 3 PM ET on Sportsnet 1 for TV and TheFan590 for radio. You can read an excellent preview from Anthony Doyle here.
Jonas Valanciunas has been participating in full practice but is still on the injury report. Malachi Richardson joins him with with right knee soreness.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, CJ Miles
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
Danilo Gallinari, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Milos Teodosic are all out.
PG: Pat Beverley, Lou Williams
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Tyrone Wallace
SF: Avery Bradley, Mike Scott
PF: Tobias Harris, Montrezl Harrell, Johnathan Motley
C: Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic
Vegas has Toronto -6. I would take that all day. The over-under is 227.