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Five Storylines for the Week of February 17th

7 mins read

All-Star weekend is finished and what a weekend it was!

Saturday night saw Aaron Gordon and Derrick Jones Jr. go at it for six rounds in the dunk contest. Gordon finished the night by dunking over 7-foot-5 big man Tacko Fall only to… lose. 

Still, my favourite dunk of the night was a different one from Gordon, in which he effortlessly catches the ball mid-air and 360 windmills the ball into the hoop with ONE HAND. Gordan dunks with grace and smoothness few other players are capable of:

In the All-Star game on Sunday night, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were both in Nick Nurse’s closing lineup, with Lowry drawing two (TWO) charges in the fourth quarter to keep the game close. Still, Team LeBron prevailed with a 157-155 win in what was the best All-Star game I can remember. The new format works, although ending the game on free-throws was unfortunate. 

https://twitter.com/theScore/status/1229255651102265344

Anyways… back to regular-season basketball. The Raptors (40-15) don’t play until Friday, so fans will have to entertain themselves elsewhere this week. I would recommend the Maple Leafs if they weren’t a constant disappointment. Champions League returns this week, though. That should be good. 

Anyways, here is a breakdown of the Raptors upcoming schedule:

  • Friday, February 21st at 7:30 pm: Phoenix Suns (22-33) @ Toronto Raptors
  • Sunday, February 23rd at 6:00 pm: Indiana Pacers (32-23) @ Toronto Raptors
  • Combined winning percentage of 49.1

Let’s look ahead to the three most interesting storylines for the (shortened) upcoming week:

1. Marcy Marc

Gasol, who has missed 20 games this season due to a hamstring injury that has sidelined him two different times already, is set to return after the All-Star break, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.

Although Norman Powell isn’t expected to return until mid-March, Gasol will be a big addition for the Raptors, who were relying on Serge Ibaka a lot before the break.  

It’s easy to forget just how important Gasol is to this Raptors team because of how well they were playing without him, but Gasol adds a combination of interior defense, playmaking, and three-point shooting that no other Raptor comes close to. However, it will be interesting to see if Ibaka is awarded with a spot in the starting lineup after how well he has played, even though it remains unlikely. 

It’s important that the Raptors work Gasol back into shape at home before hitting the road for an extended trip out West.

2. Schedule

Speaking of the schedule, the Raptors play their next four games at home before hitting the road on March 1st for a five-game road trip out West.

The Raptors have been good on the road this season, going 19-8 away from home, 3rd best in the league. 

However, they have struggled a bit against the Western Conference, going 11-7 so far on the season. For as good as this team has been, the one area where they have underperformed compared to last season’s Raptors team is against the Western Conference. Last year’s team finished the season with the best record in the league against the Western Conference, going 22-8 (73.3 winning percentage). 

If you believe in small sample sizes, last season showed that record vs. the West is a good indicator of post-season success. The Raptors play 12 more games out West, and can only lose one if they want to match last season’s record. 

It’s also worth keeping an eye on how the Raptors fare against elite competition. Vivek Jacob does a great job of visualizing just that here: 

3. P-Skills

After hitting a bit of a wall after his injury, Siakam is playing what might be the best basketball of his career on both ends. 

We know what Siakam is capable of offensively, and although he is only shooting 33.9 percent from three over his last 10 games, he gets where he wants with the ball and scores efficiently and is averaging 6.0 free-throw attempts over his past 10 games, a number he is capable of keeping up. 

Siakam can afford to be even more aggressive in the offensive end down the stretch, demanding the ball in the post where he does the most damage. If no double-team comes, Siakam can take it to the hoop and score or try to draw a foul. If a double-team does come, Siakam is a good enough passer to read the situation and find the open shooter. That is basically Toronto’s end-of-game strategy, and the Raptors could be wise to get even more reps in with Siakam facilitating down the stretch in tight games.

Defensively, Siakam seems more engaged than ever. As SB Nation’s Mike Prada points out in a piece I highly recommend reading if you want to understand how the Raptors have the 2nd best defense in the league, the Raptors ultra-aggressive defensive schemes work in large part because Siakam is long and fast enough to cover a lot of ground. Per NBA.com tracking data, Siakam contests six three-point attempts per game, the most among players with at least 25 games played by a wide margin.

I’ll be back next Monday with a new five storylines. Enjoy the week!

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