This is too good to be true. Another two-day vacation? Things are getting weird. But, with most key players finally well-rested, and due to the emergence of new faces, the Raptors are in the midst of a four-game winning-streak. Freddie Gillespie, by the way, is as entertaining off the court and he is on it. Now, usually I’d say this is an easy W for the Raps but that’s just not the case. The New York Knicks are for real this season. Julius Randle is thriving as the leading star in Madison Square Garden, Tom Thibodeau is flourishing in his dream job, and the young Knickerbockers, currently on an eight-game winning-streak of their own, are 32-27 as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. So what will it take for Kyle Lowry and co. to pull out win number 25 and inch closer to the playoff picture?
Since signing Khem Birch and Gillespie, the Raptors seem to be playing with a new-found energy. The frontcourt specifically has been less of an eye-sore. Birch has provided a big body in the middle, playing the role of an enforcer. It’s exactly what Toronto has lacked this season and it helps that Birch has gone on record to say he feels free with the Raps, allowing him to showcase things he wasn’t able to in Orlando. Big Fred, New Freddie, Gill, and any other nickname of his, has been absolutely delightful to watch. His in-game contributions during his first 10-day contract earned him a second.
And he’s excelled at chemistry-building exercises…
Nick Nurse openly advocated for the second of Gillespie’s 10-day contracts and it seems to be paying dividends for both parties. If these Birch, Gillespie, and Pascal Siakam, can manage to contain Randle, that’s already half the battle.
Next Men Up
Chris Boucher won’t be in the lineup for the next three games as he nurses a sprained MCL. Logically, this probably means more minutes will be allocated to Birch, Gillespie, Yuta Watanabe, DeAndre Bembry, and/or Malachi Flynn. I really believe this is going to be a community effort. Boucher is such a unique and valuable piece for the Raptors. He’s the only player in the NBA shooting 38 per cent from the deep while averaging more than 1.5 blocks per game. Talk about three-and-D players, Boucher is in the upper echelon, no question. Without his presence, Toronto isn’t as good and communication is going to be imperative if they want to win.
Playoff Push (?)
This is the difference between the seventh seed and the 12th seed:
Taking the play-in element into consideration, it looks as though Toronto will not be tanking or trying to move up in the lottery via losing. Instead, I’m going to say the odds for claiming a play-in spot are legitimate. There’s anywhere between 13 to 14 games left for each of the teams listed above and when you consider that the Raps haven’t played a real home game all season, along injuries and COVID disruption, it’s easy to forget that the front court was next to non-existent. Apologies to Aron Baynes, however, the Dinos pose much more of a threat in these last few games with Birch and Gillespie absorbing those minutes instead. 10th seed, here we come!
As a result of said derailments, Wednesday, against the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto tied a franchise-record (set in the inaugural ’95/’96 campaign) with their 28th different starting lineup. Continuity has been a foundational pillar for Toronto since Masai Ujiri took over in 2013. But, then again, Coach Nurse likes the experiment more than any sideline boss in Raptors history. Don’t be surprised if that number climbs to 29.
Tip-Off: 1:00pm EDT | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: Sportsnet Fan 590
Boucher (left knee), Jalen Harris (right hip), and Paul Watson (left knee) are out. Rodney Hood (right hip) is questionable.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Malachi Flynn
SG: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr
SF: OG Anunoby, DeAndre’ Bembry, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, Yuta Watanabe
C: Freddie Gillespie, Aron Baynes
Alec Burks (COVID protocols) will not be available and Mitchell Robinson who underwent foot surgery in late March is out indefinitely.
PG: Elfrid Payton, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Frank Ntilikina
SG: R.J. Barrett, Theo Pinson
SF: Reggie Bullock, Kevin Knox
PF: Julius Randle, Obi Toppin
C: Nerlens Noel, Norvel Pelle, Taj Gibson
Truly bizarre times as the Knicks are three-point favourites to win against the Raptors. Over/Under is at 216.5.