It has been the longest nine days of the year so far, but Raptors basketball is finally back!
Toronto welcomes the Phoenix Suns into town, looking to rekindle a new winning streak after their Canadian record 16 consecutive wins came to a halt on the eve of All-Star weekend. This will be the first of two match-ups between the teams. The Raptors are currently in possession of the crucial second seed with just 27 games left on the slate. The start of the push towards the playoffs begin today… just writing that sentence sent a nostalgic shiver up my spine.
Buckle Up! The second half of the season is about to begin 😤🏆
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 20, 2020
Unfortunately it looks as if Marc Gasol and Norman Powell are unlikely to return to the lineup as both players continue to recover from lingering injuries. Gasol has now missed an accumulative 20 games with a hamstring issue, while Powell will be reassessed next week for a fractured hand. Patrick McCaw is also unlikely to dress due to illness which will offer Terence Davis more leeway to assume reserve guard minutes.
Serge Ibaka has been nothing short of sensational absorbing the additional load at centre in Gasol’s absence, putting together arguably his best season of his eleven year career. Ibaka is currently posting career highs in points (16.1), assists (1.5), and three-point percentage (40.1). Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher have taken turns slipping into the backup centre spot pending on the matchup and Nick Nurse has slowly warmed to small-ball lineups that situate Pascal Siakam at centre.
The rest of the Raptors squad has been humming all month, and if Kyle Lowry’s spectacular performance in the All-Star game on Sunday indicated anything it is that their leader won’t let them dog it anytime soon. With Indiana and Milwaukee coming down the pipeline after tonight, Toronto have little time to ease back into things and need to start sharply against a Suns team with little to play for.
Meanwhile, after a surprisingly hot start to the season, the Phoenix Suns have regressed back towards pre-season expectations. They currently sit in limbo, a sizable six games out of the playoffs, but possess too much talent to kick the tanking into overdrive. The shining light of Phoenix’s season has been the jump that Devin Booker has made, earning his first All-Star appearance alongside Siakam and Lowry. The introduction of veterans Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes have brought a level of respectability to a team that has been beyond hapless for an eternity, however Phoenix sit in the middle of the pack in both offence and defence. While younger players Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. have improved considerable, the Suns’ future lies within the potential of the enigmatic former first overall pick, DeAndre Ayton.
The thing that I’ll be focusing on in the game is how Nurse decides to defend Booker. Does he respect the blossoming star enough to implement the star-stopping strategy of traps and double-teams? Or will Fred VanVleet be deployed on Booker full-time, scurrying around off-ball screens and being his usual thorny self? Toronto Raptors basketball is back on our screens!
Tipoff: 7:30 pm EST | TV: TSN1/4/5 | Radio: TSN 1050.
Norman Powell (finger) is out. Marc Gasol (hamstring), Patrick McCaw (illness) are doubtful to play.
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: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
DeAndre Ayton (ankle), Aron Baynes (hip), Dario Saric (ankle), Ellie Okobo (ankle) are probable. Frank Kaminsky (patella) is out.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Ellie Okobo, Ty Jerome
SG: Devin Booker, Jevon Carter
SF: Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson,
PF: Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Jonah Bolden
C: DeAndre Ayton, Aron Baynes, Cheick Diallo