Like much of the population, the Toronto Raptors are nursing a St. Patrick’s Day hangover after a deflating loss to the Detroit Piston over the weekend. The Raptors have little time to shake off the disappointment as they welcome the Knicks into town. New York are riding a scintillating one game win streak and are now led by Mario ‘Lebron Stopper’ Hezonja.
March 17, 2019: the day Mario Hezonja was insulted LeBron thought he could score on him pic.twitter.com/x9rsdfIcIt
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) March 17, 2019
In actuality, hosting the tanking Knicks should remedy a difficult loss. Both teams are entering the game on the back end of a back-to-back, so Toronto have no excuse but to win comfortably.
The Raptors failed to capitalize on Milwaukee’s loss to Philadelphia and are now most likely nestled into the two-seed for the playoffs. However, there is still plenty for the team to work on in the waning moments of the regular season. Firstly, re-integrating Fred VanVleet is critical. VanVleet ran with the starters during the second half in Detroit, replacing Lin, and was one of the few bright spots in the scrappy affair. Expect VanVleet to start in his second game back from injury if Kyle Lowry remains sidelined with an ankle sprain.
The bench mob’s performance will also be under the microscope heading towards the playoffs. Despite Norman Powell and OG Anunoby having some moments on Sunday, no bench player for the Raptors had a positive net rating. It has been a lingering issue for Nick Nurse and the backups that fail to deliver will start to be squeezed out of the rotation. Running against the Knicks will give the replacements ample time to showcase themselves.
Marc Gasol will start once again as Serge Ibaka serves the last of his three-game suspension. With Lowry’s availability up in the air and Kawhi Leonard’s load likely being managed, tonight is the night for Gasol to shoulder a large portion of the offensive burden. Gasol has been solid, albeit underwhelmingly so, as he consciously defers to others while feeling out his role in the team. His malleability is impressive, but Gasol must improve on his icy 29.4 per cent from deep on only 1.7 threes per game. He shot 34.7 per cent on 4 attempts per game for the Grizzlies this year.
The Knicks do not do much well, besides crashing the offensive glass. The Raptors continue to struggle rebounding the ball to close defensive possessions (Ish Smith somehow corralled four offensive boards against them on Sunday) and should emphasize this micro facet of the game as an area to improve upon. Other than that, effort and attention to detail will be the calling card for Toronto against a team that is more focused on Zion Williamson’s games than their own.
Prediction: This is the third of four meetings between the division rivals this year, with the Raptors winning the first two encounters. After the recent catastrophic loss to Cleveland, the Raptors won’t let another tanking team upend them. Raptors 115, Knicks 98.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT.
TV: TSN . Radio: Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell
SF: Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
C: Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher
Kyle Lowry (ankle) is questionable.
OUT: Serge Ibaka (susp.), Kawhi Leonard (load management)
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Kadeem Allen
SG: Damyean Dotson, Allonzo Trier
SF: Mario Hezonja, Lance Thomas, John Jenkins
PF: Kevin Knox, Henry Ellenson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mitchell Robinson, Luke Kornet
Dennis Smith Jr. (back) is questionable, Noah Vonleh (ankle) is questionable.
OUT: Frank Ntilikina (groin), Isaiah Hicks.
Spread: Raptors -12.