Both the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have one game remaining before heading into the NBA’s annual All-Star break. Toronto heads to Brooklyn for their second respective matchup in just five short days. The Nets visited Ontario’s capital on Saturday, and gave resident Raptors fans a game to remember. A 119-118 thriller that left both sets of fans on the edge of their seats.
Going into this past Saturday’s game versus Brooklyn, Toronto found themselves on a 13-game winning streak. After that victory, Toronto also tossed aside a new-look Timberwolves team — extending their win streak to a Canadian sports record-breaking 15 (fifteen) consecutive victories. Toronto was oozing with a quiet, calculated confidence. On the other side, Brooklyn (like Toronto) was ailing with a loss to injured star guard, Kyrie Irving. Luckily enough, Brooklyn boasts arguably the league’s best backup point guard option in Spencer Dinwiddie. Even with Irving healthy, Dinwiddie doesn’t play the role of a traditional backup PG. In fact, with Irving having missed the majority of this season — Dinwiddie has yet again blossomed as a player — this time around, worthy of real Eastern Conference All Star consideration. In the minimal games of full health (minus the obvious Kevin Durant) for Brooklyn, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has staggered and combined various lineups to maximize the production of his deep backcourt rotation (Irving, Dinwiddie, Harris and Temple). It’s still a work in progress, but on Wednesday night for Toronto — it won’t matter. It will be the same Nets team they saw earlier in the week. That means no Irving, and a lot of Dinwiddie, Harris and Levert. A group of young, hungry players mixed with an even balance of battle-tested veterans.
The first order of work for Toronto will be conjuring up a game plan centred around stopping, or better yet slowing down Nets swingman, Caris Levert. On Saturday, Levert poured in 37 points in an epic offensive performance. Even before that game, Levert came in blazing hot with 23 and 29 points respectively in the two previous contests.
In his most recent game versus Indiana, the 6’6 wing fell back down to Earth, and fell hard — posting an 11-point, three-assist, two-rebound line. Still, on Monday night — Brooklyn came out victorious versus a well-coached Indiana Pacers team. Staying on the Levert theme, it’s been almost foreign for an opposing wing to enter Toronto’s building (or just face Toronto in general) and post a 35+ point performance. The Raptors have done a phenomenal job this season holding high-scoring wings (Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, James Harden etc.) to pedestrian scoring lines, and minimal overall impacts. With that being said, the Nets have constructed a roster where it isn’t necessarily a one-man show. In reality, it’s not even close. With the ball-dominant Irving out, the Nets have naturally played within a more movement-based, fluid system that has seen the scoring load shared quite evenly on most nights. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Taurean Prince all provide enough of a scoring impact that should keep Toronto honest. Nets frontcourt bigs, Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan both offer colossal size and incredible shot-altering ability. Jordan specifically, remains one of the league’s elite rebounding bigs while Allen has emerged as one of the league’s best shot-blockers. That leaves players like Wilson Chandler, Garrett Temple and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot — all decent role players more than capable of playing a minimal role.
For Toronto, it’s highly likely Marc Gasol and Norman Powell will be left out as they head into the extended break. Ibaka remains a question with flu-like symptoms, but may be required by Toronto due to Brooklyn’s incredible size.
The question that’s on every mind reading this — can Toronto make it sixteen? As in… four less than 20? Or 84 less than 100?
The Toronto Raptors lead the season series 3-0.
Tipoff: 7:30 pm EST | TV: TSN1/4/5 | Radio: TSN 1050.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett
C: Chris Boucher
QUESTIONABLE: Serge Ibaka (flu)
OUT: Norman Powell (finger), Marc Gasol (hamstring)
PG: Spencer Dinwiddie, Chris Chiozza, Jeremiah Martin
SG: Caris Levert, Garrett Temple, Theo Pinson,
SF: Joe Harris, Wilson Chandler, Dzanan Musa, Timothe Luwawu
PF: Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs
C: Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan
OUT: Kyrie Irving (knee), Kevin Durant (achilles)