As one of the few remaining teams that are still perfect through the NBA re-start, the Toronto Raptors will look to keep their rhythm going against the Orlando Magic – yes the Magic…again (how is this still a thing?). Winners of two in a row, the Raptors are already showing the flashes of brilliance we grew accustomed to seeing from them earlier this season, as they have been amongst the most elite-performing teams thus far in the bubble, boasting a net rating of +9.4 over their 2 games (good enough for third in the league) – not to mention, their wins have come against two of the better teams in the league in the Lakers and the Heat.
The Orlando Magic, meanwhile are reeling, coming off a big loss to the Indiana Pacers last night, compounding the devastating news they received earlier in the week as Jonathan Isaac suffered a torn ACL – ending his season, and likely most of next season as well. It’s truly a bummer for the third-year forward, who’s extension eligible this summer, and (pending an agreement with Orlando) will become a restricted free agent in 2021. A defensive weapon with a developing offensive game, Isaac averaged career highs of just under 12 points and 6 boards, to go along with over 2 blocks and 1.5 steals a game this season.
Jonathan Isaac not being in the lineup might be good news for Pascal Siakam however, who had a forgettable night to say the least, the last time these two teams played each other. The All-star starter shot 4-for-22 for 20 points back on November 29, to a large extent because of Isaac’s disruptive defensive abilities and length. So Aaron Gordon and the other Magic wings will likely have to take on the task of guarding Pascal instead. There’s nobody on the Magic other than Isaac that can guard Pascal straight-up – so the Raptors will need to make him a focal point on the offensive end.
But a big night from Pascal clearly isn’t always what this team needs. Fueled by a Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby night against the Lakers, and a Fred VanVleet game against Miami, the Raptors have clearly shown they have a well-balanced attack. So although games like tonight’s against Orlando might be good to get Pascal going closer to his fully-formed self, and to get his confidence going ahead of the post-season, the Raptors’ identity as a multi-pronged offensive unit will remain true. And while the narrative of a superstar wing or two being the requisite ingredients to a championship team will continue to exist, the Raptors continue to show that a high-performing and well-coached team of two-way players – with perhaps just flashes of superstardom when needed from Lowry, Siakam or VanVleet – can do the trick as well.
The flash of superstardom we got from Fred VanVleet against the Heat on Monday afternoon for example was truly spectacular, as Fred was able to channel his inner Steph to bomb seven 7-pointers (some from incredibly deep), leading Rachel Nichols and the crew from ESPN’s The Jump to question if “Steady Freddy” is still an sufficient nickname for him at this point – this guy is clearly more than just steady now, right? But whether Fred can anchor the sole ball handling duties full-time can still can be questioned – meaning an increasingly difficult decision is coming up for the Raptors, as retaining the services of VanVleet is looking like it will be more and more difficult (though let’s not count out the value of Masai Ujiri in any contractual situation).
Another Raptor to keep an eye on tonight will be Norm Powell – the sixth-man of the year candidate who averaged better than 16 points a game on 50% shooting from the field in the earlier part of the season, has struggled in the seeding games so far. Norm has averaged just 7.5 points and has shot a combined 6 for 21 in the 2 games. Powell’s lack of production has been felt as the Raptors bench has not been as good in the Lakers and Heat games, struggling to hold leads or gain ground. Norm’s got the microwave offense that the Raptors will need steady doses of when offensive options start to dry up – so getting him back on track as soon as possible would be ideal.
The Raptors will be playing Orlando for the fourth time season, with the first three games all resulting in wins by an average margin over 10 points. Stretching back to last year’s playoff series, the Raptors have taken 7 of the last 8 from Orlando, and the Magic are just one DJ Augustin shot away from losing all 8 of those contests. Quite simply, the Raptors have dominated the Magic, leading most fans to dread this matchup as a potential first-round series (as easy as that series may be). With the Celtics losing last night to the Heat though, and the Raptors virtually locking up the 2-seed with 6 games remaining, their opponent looks like it’ll be the 7th seed – and with the loss of Jonathan Isaac for their stretch run in these seeding games, the chances of Orlando moving up to the 7th seed now looks less likely.
Tipoff: 8:00 pm EST | TV: Sportsnet ONE | Radio: TSN 1050
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Paul Watson
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Injured: Patrick McCaw (knee), Oshae Brissett (knee)
PG: DJ Augustin, Markelle Fultz
SG: Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross
SF: Aaron Gordon, Wes Iwundu
PF: James Ennis, Gary Clark, Vic Law
C: Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Khem Birch
Injured: Jonathan Issac (torn ACL), Michael Carter-Williams (foot – day-to-day), Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus)
Taking the game off like they did against the Suns in the scrimmage portion of the re-start probably won’t be a good idea for the Raptors if they hope to keep their winning ways alive, as the Magic still have capable scorers in Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic. But if Toronto keeps defending they way they have been over the past couple of games, this one should be no sweat.