Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors @ Jazz, Mar. 9

The last time the Toronto Raptors played the Utah Jazz, Toronto finished the game in the first quarter, winning it a laughable 37-20. Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam combined for 30 points in that decisive first quarter.

Siakam scored with total ease, scoring 35 points as he rained triples, ate Royce O’Neale as a primary defender, and  dished five big assists while he was at it. The post was where he did most of his damage, bullying through O’Neale at times, and when O’Neale steadied himself for contact, Siakam would spin off of him for the short jumper. It was a massacre. The reason why Utah wasn’t able to send help was because shot three-of-five from deep in the quarter, firing away whenever Rudy Gobert strayed but a little. A decisive Gasol — or Serge Ibaka, depending on who starts, but indecision has never plagued Ibaka the same way — is massively important to make sure Siakam has room to work without a proper rim protector straying into the paint. The method crushed the Jazz last time around, and Toronto will look to replicate the results.

The Jazz, for their part, are on something of a hot streak. They’ve won five straight games, over mostly bad teams, but including one win over the Boston Celtics. The bench did work against the Celtics, with Jordan Clarkson and the recently bench Joe Ingles exploding for 26 combined points. Because of Toronto’s bench weaknesses recently, this could be a problem for Toronto. If Fred VanVleet returns, it would really help shore up the rotations, meaning Toronto has a point guard on the floor at all times. Otherwise, expect bench-bench minutes to be a slog for the Raptors, especially if Terence Davis’s small slump continues.

Otherwise, the Jazz have succeeded because Mike Conley has returned to playing good basketball. He’s averaging 17 points per game on very efficient splits over the last five wins. Much of that is because with O’Neale starting and Ingles on the bench, Conley has to carry more of a playmaking burden, which is a job to which he is accustomed. His role is starting to look more familiar, and he knows where his touches are coming from. Ingles, for his part, has dominated in low minutes, and the Jazz have thrived when he does hit the floor.  All this to say, roster balance has become a real strength for Utah.

If VanVleet returns, Toronto will counter Utah with an equally balanced rotation. If not, then the Raptors have to bet that Lowry-Siakam minutes are so dominant that the bench imbalance shouldn’t matter. If Norman Powell remains the greatest player in the world, then it shouldn’t matter either way.

GAME INFO

Time: 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT / TV: TSN / Radio: 590

RAPTORS UPDATES

Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is still questionable, but March Gasol (hamstring) is back. Dewan Hernandez (ankle) is out, and Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson are both with the Raptors 905.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Pat McCaw
SG: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Chris Boucher

JAZZ UPDATES

The team is healthy? Weird. I didn’t know such a thing could exist.

PG: Mike Conley, Emmanuel Mudiay
SG: Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Miye Oni
SF: Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Jarrell Brantley
PF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Georges Niang
C: Rudy Gobert, Tony Bradley, Ed Davis

THE LINE

Toronto is +4, which, I guess. The over-under is 225.

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