Somehow, someway, the Toronto Raptors just keep on winning basketball games. They’ve done it in exciting manner, as against the Los Angeles Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers, and in sloppy manner, as against the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic. There have been various heroes, including Norm Powell in the most recent win over the Magic. Toronto has had to vary its game-plan in almost every game. Perhaps the only consistent aspect of games has been Toronto winning.
And now we may see the return of the troops. Nick Nurse has consistently said that December 1 would be the target date for Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry. We’ll find out later, closer to the game, as there won’t be a shootaround today for media to ask early. Lowry and Ibaka would mean the lessening of minutes for Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, as well as perhaps the absence of minutes for Terence Davis and Chris Boucher. We’ll find out if they return later, but my uneducated guess is that they do not.
The Jazz are a good team. They’re 12-7, coming off a defensive win over the Memphis Grizzlies. They pass the ball exceptionally well, and much of their scoring comes from the wing position, either Donovan Mitchell or Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic, especially, is on a hot streak to start the year, shooting 46.8 percent from deep while scoring 22.1 points per game. OG Anunoby can only guard one of the two wing scorers, so the other will have an easier matchup against either Powell, VanVleet, or Lowry, depending on who starts. Utah isn’t the team to pound individual matchups, so perhaps the details won’t be too significant.
What could be holding the Jazz back so far this season is a cold start to Mike Conley. Whether it’s joining a new team and adapting to a new offensive environment, or whether it’s age, Conley has not played well. Though he’s had some break-out games, they have not yet led to him turning the corner. On the season, Conley is averaging 13.9 points per game, his lowest output since 2011-12. He’s shooting 36.1 percent from the field, his lowest ever. Even though he’s shooting well from deep, he’s shown a stunning lack of scoring from inside the arc, much like his former Grizzly teammate, Marc Gasol. For Gasol, it doesn’t matter to much, as he’s such a phenomenal passer, with such capable teammates, that the team thrives without his scoring. The Jazz need Conley to score. That’s why they got him over the off-season. He attempts 12.7 shots per game, which would be more than anyone on the Raptors other than Siakam, VanVleet, and Lowry. For Toronto to shut down the Jazz’s intellectual attack, it will start with continuing Conley’s struggles. That will likely fall on VanVleet, who is a fantastic defender.
The Jazz play exceptionally slow, much like the Magic. They attempt the third-fewest field goals of all teams in the NBA, and they are content to let their defense set and feast. The offense will take care of itself. Toronto and Utah are both defense-first teams, so expect the Jazz’s style to dictate play. Utah’s ball-handlers, other than Mitchell, are sure-handed veterans. They won’t be forced into as many turnovers as the majority of Toronto’s opponents. Toronto may not get its fast-break game established, so don’t expect a free-flowing game here.
Matchups and details aside, maybe the most notable aspect of the game here is that Conley and Gasol will play as opponents for the first time in their careers. Watch their pre-game handshake and their post-game hug. It will be emotional.
Tipoff: 6:00pm EST | TV: Sportsnet 1 | Radio: TSN1050
Kyle Lowry (thumb) is doubtful, and Serge Ibaka (sprained ankle) is questionable, Patrick McCaw (knee), Matt Thomas (finger), and Stanley Johnson (groin) are all out.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis II
SG: Norman Powell, Oshae Brissett
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher, Dewan Hernandez
The Jazz are healthy.
PG: Mike Conley, Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum
SG: Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Miye Oni
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green
PF: Royce O’Neale, Jarrell Brantley
C: Rudy Gobert, Ed Davis, Tony Bradley
The Raptors are -2.5, and the over-under is 209.5.