The Toronto Raptors briefly return home with an eye on extending their winning streak to eight games as they welcome Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks into town. Toronto have won both encounters in Atlanta this season in close fashion, the most recent matchup occurring just a week ago.
Despite these victories, the Raptors have struggled to contain the talismanic Young. The freshly named All-Star starter has averaged a scorching 31 points, eight rebounds, and 12.5 assists over the two games. Young’s highlight-reel offensive season has been the lone bright spot in a deflating year for Atlanta, yet his iconic performance this past weekend might be the most spectacular of his brief career. On a somber Sunday, Young exploded for 45 points and 14 assists against Washington while donning Kobe Bryant’s number eight jersey.
Given that the Raptors have moved back towards their more aggressive defensive trapping schemes from earlier in the season, Nick Nurse may look to quieten Young’s impact from the get-go. Granted, it is pretty damn difficult to entirely eliminate one of the most gifted offensive talents in the league, but there seems to be a commitment to the team’s star-stopping ethos, especially when said star begins to heat up.
As one would expect between teams who sit twenty games apart from one in another in the standings, both wins have felt fairly comfortable for Toronto. However, despite possessing double digit leads late in the fourth quarter of both games— the most recent ballooning to twenty-one points— Atlanta stormed back each time to give a momentary scare in otherwise safe victories. Floundering fourth quarters have arisen as a minor concern for Toronto over the past few weeks and Atlanta’s frenetic full-court press to slash a massive lead last Monday didn’t lessen worries.
Still, it is hard not to be optimistic about the Raptors recent run of form since returning to health. Their transition back into the normal rotation has been nearly seamless; the only mild note of negativity was Pascal Siakam’s inconsistent stretch, yet the All-Star then responded with an incredible night in San Antonio and won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Not a bad response, I suppose.
Any slight kinks have quickly been ironed out, a testament to the chemistry of the championship core and the luxury of an admittedly light schedule. But the Raptors can only beat whoever is placed in front of them and tonight serves as a great opportunity to keep the train running. Without looking too far ahead, there is potential for the Raptors to build some serious momentum as the All-Star break looms. Toronto have three more very winnable games on the docket, all against teams in the blah tier of the Eastern Conference, providing Nick Nurse a legitimate shot at earning the honour of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Star team. More importantly, this means getting first dibs on a cheeky recruitment pitch for any potential suitors who may or may not be free agents in a year or two…
Tipoff: 7:30pm EST | TV: TSN | Radio: TSN1050
Patrick McCaw (nose) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (ankle) are questionable. Dewan Hernandez (ankle) is out.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
Bruno Fernando (calf) is quesitonable. DeAndre Bembry (hand), Alex Len (hip), Chandler Parsons (head), and Jabari Parker (shoulder) are all out.
PG: Trae Young, Jeff Teague, Brandon Goodwin
SG: Kevin Huerter, Brandon, Evan Turner
SF: DeAndre Hunter, Vince Carter, Treveon Graham
PF: John Collins, Cam Reddish
C: Bruno Fernando, Damian Jones