Gameday: Spurs @ Raptors, Jan. 12

The San Antonio Spurs are coming to town to face the Raptors. Not only looking for a win, but to punch in a few more footnotes in the history of these two squads, that are inextricably tied together. The Spurs knowing they opened up a championship window, however brief, for the Raptors (one that the Raptors seized). The Raptors looking at a player who chose to believe in their franchise before many others, the player that became the sacrificial lamb for what he thought the team could achieve.

These two teams intersect in a way that is unlike any other two teams in the league. Not only because of the aforementioned reasons, but because the Spurs, the NBA’s model franchise for years, mistreated (allegedly) Kawhi Leonard’s injury, and shipped him off to Toronto. Jettisoned out with Leonard was Danny Green, the Spurs spotless resume, and a certainty of a bright future and a bright present. You can point to Masai Ujiri’s arrival as an indication of when the Raptors started to become the league’s best franchise (and you should) but prior to this game I’d like to point out that the recognition of the Raptors station in the league came after they made the Leonard trade – finally recognized for all the things that the Spurs had embodied for so long: Incredible development, attention to detail with players health, great coaching, league-best front office, and a winning culture.

So, where has that recognition of the Raptors culture and decision making left them? Well, 4th in the Eastern Conference while weathering an absurd amount of injuries, and punching up against the top-end of the aforementioned Conference, which looks more capable and dangerous than it has in years. Even though the Raptors have been beat up by injuries, they seem uniquely equipped to deal with it, with their apparent never ending lack of players who will come to the forefront and defend with passion and run the floor. The Raptors have had at least one of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, or Kyle Lowry in the lineup at a given time, and Nick Nurse & co. have asked those players to inject just enough offensive brilliance to carry the Raptors end of roster players through to wins.

From the BBR: “The Raptors have taken G-League players and asked them to carry the load of NBA rotation players. That has manifested in different ways, rarely in the skill department, but this team continues to provide meaningful production in any stat that one would consider to be “hustle”. VanVleet, the former G-Leaguer, is top-5 in the NBA in deflections. With that tiny wingspan, VanVleet is getting his hand on more basketballs than almost any other player in the league. The Raptors end of bench players have no doubt adopted this mentality and applied it to their own games.”

There’s no question, DeMar DeRozan and co. will want this win against the Raptors. They’re firmly entrenched in the playoff race in the Western Conference, and doing so while playing two styles that seem at odds with each other. Large parts of the Spurs offense are still dedicated to the methodical dealings of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan (they take over 30-percent of the field goal attempts on the Spurs), both of whom take over 40-percent of their shots from mid-range. Around those mid-range maestros, they have relentless runners and pace-pushers like Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, and Derrick White. And they overload the rest of their roster with shooting talent to help space the floor out for all of the above.

It seems somewhat symbiotic, there’s a harmony to the Spurs offense when DeRozan knifes into the lane after snaking the pick n’ roll, drawing the defense in and finding a relocating Bryn Forbes for three, it looks good. However (comma) DeRozan’s lack of an outside shot can sometimes jam up the flow of the offense – a limitation neither DeRozan or Gregg Popovich seem interested in working around. When the Raptors played Popovich’s squad last year, they saw more of the symbiotic version of the Spurs, as DeRozan averaged 9.5 assists and the team as a whole hit roughly 30-percent more triples than their average.

The Raptors will be looking to minimize that attack. For the second year in a row, the Spurs are dead last in 3-point attempts in the NBA. Mix that in with the fact that the Raptors give up an absurd amount of threes (a historic amount from the corner) and something has to give. Do the Raptors coax out of the Spurs, a version of themselves that fires from the hip and launches threes with abandon, perhaps in the process supercharging the Spurs terrific secondary shooters? Or do the Raptors feast on the Spurs unwillingness to punish them for their inherent distaste for jumpers from beyond the arc?

It’s a mix, really. No team that shoots as little from three as the Spurs is going to be comfortable overhauling their offense for a game and firing away from deep, especially since the Spurs best shooters typically work above the break. But, there’s no reason why good shooters would turn down good shots.

The formula for DeRozan and co. to take down the shorthanded Raptors is to find the right mix of the two different versions of their offense. DeRozan and Aldridge need to play slow and manufacture points, Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray need to get out in transition. Both of these can be advantageous vs. the Raptors, but at different times, lest they run the risk of playing the type of basketball that the Raptors like to play. This game will be a prime example of two great coaches in Popovich and Nick Nurse trying to outwit the other. The Raptors are the better team, but the Spurs possess a few tools that the Raptors will have trouble dealing with. We’ll see.

Game Info

Tipoff: 610pm EST | TV: SportsnetOne | Radio: TheFan590

Raptors Updates

Norman Powell (shoulder) is back tonight but unclear whether he’ll start or not, Pascal Siakam (groin) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) are questionable for tonight with Nurse saying: “that might be a bit too ambitious”. Fred VanVleet (hamstring) is out.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw

SG: Terence Davis II, Norm Powell, Matt Thomas

SF: Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller

PF: OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett

C: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher

Spurs Updates

Spurs have recently started Lyles at center, but they seem to have a clean bill of health.

PG: Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills

SG: Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White, Marco Belinelli

SF: DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarre Carroll

C: Trey Lyles, Jakob Poeltl, Chimezie Metu

Have a blessed day.

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