First up – get tickets for tonight’s watch party – Sportsnet Bar & Grill. $20 gets you in and a drink. It’ll be a blast.
The time has come. After a relatively short summer of soaking in the Raptors championship, fans and players will come together in a mind-meld to celebrate under one roof. Tonight, the Raptors step forward into a new season, but not without celebrating last year, not without always being cognizant of their newfound championship pedigree. That same sentiment can be found in the RR comment sections – sweet memories of the past, and victory, but a fervent excitement for what’s to come. So let’s get into it.
The idea for this game was to match the Raptors insatiable fanbase to a ring (and banner) ceremony, and then to juxtapose that with the all-consuming athleticism of the NBA’s shiniest new thing, Zion Williamson. It was a great game-plan, and something I was really looking forward too. However (comma) Zion’s knee surgery has made the second half of that formula a distant memory. The stakes have been lowered significantly for the Pelicans and the average NBA fan, but for the Raptors and their adoring base the motivations and excitement is just as tenacious.
Tonight we’ll see Kyle Lowry slip on a championship ring in front of thousands of raucous fans. Then he’ll have to play an NBA game against Jrue Holiday, one of the three best point guard defenders in the league. You can expect Lowry to be doing most of his creation in the pick n’ roll as he tries to shed Holiday’s intimidating frame.
The Pelicans sizeable back-court will likely necessitate more initiation from players like Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol. The advantages will come in the front-court for the Raptors, as they look to take advantage of players like Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, and Nicolo Melli. Ingram’s length lends him a lot of leeway on the defensive end, but he shouldn’t provide Siakam with many problems – the same goes for Favors (good defender, but too slow for Siakam) and Melli (wasn’t a standout defensively with Fenerbahce). Melli was used sporadically as a ‘PNR’ ball handler in Europe, but with Siakam as his defensive matchup I wouldn’t expect anything like that in this one.
The Raptors are going to try and get out and run tonight (as they are wont to do) to avoid facing what should be a pretty menacing half-court defense from the Pelicans. Siakam’s extension of the floor vertically should help a lot in this regard, as his presence should create gaps and lanes for other players (Norm, OG) on the break.
Depending on how the Pelicans shake-up the line-up they’re going to be too small or too slow at at least one position. If JJ Redick or E’twuan Moore (‘the littlest Small Forward’) hit the starting line-up, Anunoby should have plenty of opportunities to get into the paint on the weak-side – whether he’s overwhelming as a cutter, or crashing glass. If Melli comes in at the four and Ingram slides down to the three, Siakam should have a field day.
The Raptors starting line-up should be better in this one, I mean, the Raptors starting line-up is really good. The Pelicans do seem to have the advantage when we look at the bench units, though. It depends who gets the start, but a group of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jahlil Okafor, JJ Redick, Josh Hart and E’twaun Moore is pretty impressive for a bench. Alexander Walker has been one of the most polished prospects from his draft so far, Jahlil Okafor is a steady offensive presence, and the aforementioned wing trio is really talented for bench players.
On the other side, the Raptors bench pieces – Assuming VanVleet and Ibaka come off the bench – have a couple meaningful ways to attack the Pelicans reserves. Okafor is a slow-footed big man, and Ibaka has become an elite offensive big man in a lot of ways. Ibaka spent the playoffs eating bench bigs for every meal, and he should be able to capitalize against Okafor. VanVleet was remarkably sharp in the pre-season, and although his most exciting minutes should come in tandem with Lowry, he’ll have an opportunity to flash his newfound ‘PNR’ acumen against the plodding Okafor. Look for that to be attacked.
We’ve been waiting some time for this. Raptors basketball is back, and we get a night to celebrate our champions. Life is good. Oh yeah, the Raptors are gonna win this one.
Tipoff: 8pm EST | TV: SN One | Radio: TSN1050
*The Ring Ceremony starts at 7:25pm EST
Patrick McCaw (knee soreness), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (left groin) are out for the opener.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Darius Miller (ruptured achilles) will miss the season, Zion Williamson (knee surgery) is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
PG: Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson
SG: Jrue Holiday, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart
SF: JJ Redick, E’Twaun Moore
PF: Brandon Ingram, Nicolo Melli
C: Derrick Favors, Jahlil Okafor, Jaxson Hayes
Enjoy the game, I’ll talk to you lovely people tonight on the reaction podcast.
Have a blessed day.