The Raptors are coming off of quite a few contenders for ‘game of the year.’ Here are some wins from just the month of February: they topped the Brooklyn Nets behind 33 points from Pascal Siakam, who was far and away the most dominant player on the floor. They swept a back-to-back against the Milwaukee Bucks as OG Anunoby returned from injury to lift Toronto’s structure on both ends. Then they topped the Philadelphia 76ers despite starting small against a leading MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.
The point, of course, is that everything is coming up Millhouse for the Raptors right now.
Siakam is playing like a dominant scorer who fits into the roster rather than being force fed possessions outside of the flow of the offense. He has emerged as Toronto’s best screening option, and he and Fred VanVleet have established particularly deadly pick-and-roll chemistry. Speaking of VanVleet, he has been Toronto’s best and most important player this season and their most likely bet at an All-Star berth. His pull-up shooting has improved drastically this season, to the tune of 36.5 percent from deep this year versus just 32.7 percent last season. His passing is much improved, particularly for 2-point shots to rollers and cutters. (His passing for 3-pointers was already exquisite last season.) Anunoby is blossoming into a tertiary scorer off the bounce and in the post while retaining his incredible defensive and shooting abilities. Norman Powell is scoring like a fiend. DeAndre’ Bembry has blossomed into a do-everything piece that makes few mistakes and fits ideally into the defensive schemes. Chris Boucher has exploded, and Aron Baynes has emerged as a positive when playing off the bench.
The point is that everything is looking up. The Raptors are correspondingly riding a four-game winning streak and stand alone at fifth in the East, having beaten every team ahead of them at least once.
Perhaps the only downside is Lowry’s continued absence with minor injuries. However, Lowry can always be trusted to fit into whatever role is required. He has developed into the ultimate ceiling-raiser and teammate.
Philadelphia is going to test Toronto’s newfound sunny disposition on life. The Sixers shot 4 of 21 on wide-open 3s in the previous contest, which is a statistical way to say: the Raptors got darn lucky to win the game. Ben Simmons was dominant and aggressive, getting to the rim at will, and scoring 28 points on 11 shots with only one turnover. Embiid was unguardable by anyone other than Baynes. There were plenty of signs that the Sixers played at least as well as the Raptors, and shooting variance perhaps doomed them to a loss. Don’t expect that to continue. Seth Curry and Tobias Harris combined to shoot 3 of 16 from deep, whereas their season numbers suggest they should have hit 6 or 7 of those triples. Not to say that the Sixers should have won the last one, but rather to say that they shouldn’t be discouraged heading into the rematch.
Of course on the other side, Powell cooled off and finished with only 11 points, only the second time he’s scored so few in all of February. Variance by its nature works both ways. Regardless, Toronto is going to have its hands full. If Siakam continues to thrive, Powell bounces back, and VanVleet hits his jumpers, the Raptors can compete with anyone. But the Sixers are a legitimately good team, and they’ll shoot better in this one.
This should be Toronto’s best test of the season. But hey, it’s just another chance to paint a new picture contending for Toronto’s ‘game of the season’ mantle.
Tipoff: 7:30pm EST | TV: SN | Radio: SN 590 The Fan
Kyle Lowry (thumb) remains day-to-day. He was upgraded to questionable in yesterday’s injury report. Otherwise all is well.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Malachi Flynn
SG: DeAndre’ Bembry, Pat McCaw, Matt Thomas
SF: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Yuta Watanabe, Stanley Johnson
C: OG Anunoby, Aron Baynes
PG: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey
SG: Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Isaiah Joe
SF: Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle
PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Paul Reed
C: Joel Embiid, Dwight Howard, Tony Bradley, Vincent Poirier
Raptors are +1.5, which seems perhaps favourable to the Raptors. Yes, they won the last game. But wow is it hard to win back-to-backs against such good teams. And the Sixers missed a lot of makeable shots in the first one. The over-under is 224.5 again.