Gameday: Pelicans vs Raptors, January 9

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Courtesy: ESPN

The Pelicans (14-25, 13th in West) come to town looking to snap the Raptors (19-17, 7th in East) five game win streak. One beloved former Raptor will be the main attraction.

Jonas Valanciunas, JV, Big Science, Lithuanian Lightning. Whatever you want to call him, he was a staple at centre during Toronto’s rebuild to relevance and contender status under Dwane Casey. Although he was never utilized enough in those years, you can definitely make the argument that without Valanciunas, the Raps don’t even get by Indiana in the 2016 playoffs and a third straight first round failure at the time would have made Masai Ujiri blow everything up well before Kawhi Leonard came north. The man was a nightmare to deal with during that run until he got hurt in the Miami series. Traded for Marc Gasol yes, but JV’s six and half seasons were instrumental in the process that eventually led to a championship. Also low-key hilarious and by all accounts, a great person.

This is Valanciunas’ first time playing in Toronto since December 9th 2018. It’s absolutely mind boggling that he hasn’t been back as an opponent in three whole years. JV did return as a spectator for Game 1 of the Orlando series (why pick Game 1 when you know the curse lol), but that’s all. Josh Lewenberg wrote a great piece on Valanciunas eagerly anticipating this trip back, which touched on a part of his game that’s blossomed since his later Raptors days.

JV’s first NBA three came on the last day of the 2017 regular season. Jack Armstrong couldn’t stop laughing, and Matt Devlin sure called it on Valanciunas bombing away being the new wave in the future. It’s still death, taxes and JV’s threes. He made 30 of them during his final full Raptors campaign in 2017-18 and topped that with 32 in Memphis a couple of years ago. Then in a November game against the Clippers this season he absolutely went ham.

Antonio Daniels was going nuts as JV finished with a career-high 39 points that night (averaging 18.6). He has already made a season best 37 treys this season, and was leading the league at one point in percentage around 55. It’s down to a very respectable 43 now, but Valanciunas says he plans to deploy his honed weapon against Nick Nurse who created this three point monster as an assistant.

The downside of Valanciunas’ return is that like Serge Ibaka on New Years Eve, the fans won’t be here for a rocking standing ovation during his video tribute. Between those two and Danny Green, there are a whole bunch of  “I owe U” forms being filled out. Kyle Lowry’s February 1st return is fast approaching too. It just sucks, no other way to put it.

One Wish

Fred VanVleet is coming off arguably the best game of his career and his first triple double (37/10/10). Just rack up another good day at the office for the culture and the votes.

Positive Hat

The Raptors can extend their regular season win streak to six, which would be their best since the most bizarre seven game stretch in NBA history (March 3 – August 5 2020). Four games before the league paused and three in the bubble. Weird as hell. Does that even count?

Game Info

Tip-Off: 6pm EST | TV: TSN 4/5 | Radio: TSN 1050

Pelicans Lineup

Zion Williamson has been out the whole season. Kira Lewis Jr (knee) is done for the year.  Josh Hart is away from the team. Tomas Satoransky is in Covid protocols.

PG: Devonte’ Graham, Jose Alvarado, Jared Harper

SG: Garrett Temple, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Trey Murphy III

SF: Herbert Jones, Naji Marshall

PF: Brandon Ingram, Gary Clark

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jaxson Hayes, Willy Hernangomez

Raptors Lineup

Yuta Watanabe is the only one on the injury list right now as he’s still in Covid protocols. It wouldn’t shock me if Nick Nurse inserted Khem Birch or Precious Achiuwa in the starting lineup for Scottie Barnes to help with JV. I don’t know anything.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn

SG: Gary Trent Jr, Svi Mykhailiuk

SF: Scottie Barnes, Justin Champagnie

PF: OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, D.J. Wilson

C: Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa

The Line

The Raptors are favoured by eight points. Over/Under is 221 points.

My over/under prediction (9-5 this season): Learned my lesson taking the L guessing under in the Utah game. The Raptors continue to score around 120 points since being healthy, and they will probably have a quarter or two of non-serious complacency defensively, especially if the opponent is inferior. So for now, always take the over.

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