Has the other shoe finally dropped?
All season long, the Toronto Raptors have taken their injuries in stride, looking adversity in the eye and pulling off statement wins like in Los Angeles against the Lakers, at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, or in Boston against the Celtics. They’ve vaulted themselves to the second seed in the Eastern Conference, making hay of the schedule. How have the injuries not taken a bigger toll, we asked?
Perhaps the clock has struck midnight. An 82-game season is designed to get you some way or the other, and it appears the sheen of mounting character wins has finally been lost. The Raptors will be looking avoid a fourth straight regular season loss when they take on Phoenix Tuesday night, something they haven’t done since January of the 2016-17 season when they lost five straight. The Suns will be looking to avoid their own four-game losing skid, but the last time they did that was a month ago.
For a change, the Suns actually looked like they were onto something to open the season as they started out winning seven of their first 11 games, but injuries to Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes combined with a 25-game suspension for Deandre Ayton have seen them lose 33 of the 50 games since. New head coach Monty Williams has helped instill better defensive principles, and that has reflected in an improvement from 29th (115.2) in defensive efficiency last season to 19th (111.7) this, per Cleaning the Glass.
They couldn’t be facing the Raptors at a better time, either. Toronto’s halfcourt offence has come to a Gardiner rush hour-like standstill, averaging 87.6 points per-100 halfcourt possessions over their past three games — seven points below their season average — and transition opportunities serving as momentary elixirs. OG Anunoby has been at the heart of the thievery that has bought Toronto some easy buckets, and his performances have been in stark contrast to Pascal Siakam. The focal point of the Raptors’ halfcourt offence has had a rough go of late, struggling to finish at the rim with a high degree of efficiency, and as he is wont to do, is more than shouldering the blame and vowing to be better in time.
Learning moments were always going to be a theme of this season and the level at which this team has been able to compete shouldn’t distract from that. The Raptors are the rare franchise that has been able to successfully juggle both winning and development over the past seven seasons and this is just part and parcel of what has been a thoroughly effective process when keeping the big picture in mind.
It will also help a great deal if Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka can return, as they have been dependable sources of offence to this point in the season and will make a significant difference whenever they do. Nick Nurse suggested that Marc Gasol could return during the West coast road trip but he has already been ruled out for Tuesday night.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson deserves a lot of credit for stepping up to the plate and manning the centre minutes in the absence of the regulars but the size factor of Nikola Jokic was just too much to handle last game. The Raptors’ natural swarming, scrambling style and variations of looks did little to throw him off but Deandre Ayton doesn’t possess quite the same vision and so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them continue to employ the tactic if neither of Gasol nor Ibaka can make it back.
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT.
TV: SN1. Radio: TSN 1050.
Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka are both listed as questionable against the Suns but with both Paul Watson and Oshae Brissett away on Raptors 905 duty, one would like to think that at least Ibaka is set for a return.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw
SG: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
GTD: Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka
OUT: Marc Gasol, Dewan Hernandez
Kelly Oubre Jr. is reportedly in the process of seeking a second medical opinion on his right knee after an initial exam revealed a torn meniscus. That’s a tough blow for the Suns as the 24-year-old was averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting a career-high 35.2% from deep on the season. Cameron Johnson is probable to play after being diagnosed with a right hip contusion after playing against the Golden State Warriors. Frank Kaminsky remains out indefinitely after being ruled out with a right patella stress fracture in early January.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Jevon Carter
SG: Devin Booker, Elie Okobo, Ty Jerome
SF: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson
PF: Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo
C: Deandre Ayton, Aron Baynes
OUT: Kelly Oubre Jr., Frank Kaminsky
The Raptors are currently four-point favourites with the over/under at 222.