After finally managing to pick up their first win of the season, the Toronto Raptors will be looking for a little revenge when they take on the team that first started their season-opening three-game slide as they face the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.
Though it’s only been three games since that first encounter with Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, there should be the expectation that the team that faltered defensively and lacked the kind of timely, decisive shooting is behind the Raptors now after a little bit of soul searching, culminating in their blowout win over the New York Knicks this past Thursday.
There’s no guarantee of that, of course, but there’s little denying how much better the Raptors looked Thursday compared to their first game of the season.
As you get ready for the game Saturday night, here are three things to take into consideration and watch for.
Without question the biggest storyline heading into Saturday’s game will be seeing how Pascal Siakam responds to the disciplinary action the team levied against him Thursday that forced him to watch from the bench as his team rolled over New York.
As Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported, Siakam was frustrated at not being able to help his teammates but ultimately understood the decision.
Siakam was seen walking off the floor towards the locker room with 26 seconds left after fouling out of Toronto’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday, and while he was clearly frustrated, it wasn’t a good look for a team leader beginning a four-year, $136-million maximum contract.
So now, after this bit of housekeeping from the the Raptors, we’ll have to see how Siakam responds and if the proverbial grounding made him reflect on his actions and come out of the incident looking better.
During his first three games, Siakam has looked mostly mediocre, averaging 18.7 points per game, but shooting just 39.3 per cent from the field. Perhaps a little tough love from the organization will give him the push he’s been needing to look like the All-NBA, max-contract player he was before he entered the bubble in last season’s restart.
We’ll see Saturday night.
Raptors picking their poison
The last time the Raptors faced off against the Pelicans, most of their defensive focus was on Williamson, who did go off for 15 points and 10 rebounds, but saw the damage limited because the Raptors — mainly aided by the individual defensive work of OG Anunoby — made an effort to force him to pass the ball or deny him access to it in the first place.
That was great, but unfortunately Toronto had no answer for the Pelicans’ actual all-star Ingram, who posted 24 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds while going 10-of-19 from the floor and 3-for-6 from deep.
Anunoby was given the main assignment against Williamson and, as such, was unable to focus his attention on Ingram, leaving the New Orleans star to run amok.
Unfortunately for the Raptors, they don’t have two Anunobys, so they’ll likely have to pick between Williamson and Ingram and determine who they’re more willing to let run free. Theoretically, a player like Siakam could be a strong defensive matchup against Ingram, but he likely expends too much energy on the offensive end these days to be a true defensive stopper, so it’ll probably come down to dealing with one or the other for the Raptors.
The Raptors’ defensive woes from the first two games of the season have appeared to have been figured out in the two outings since, but the offence has still been a struggle.
The Raptors are entering Saturday’s contest with the worst offence in the NBA, putting up just 98.1 points per 100 possessions, but there was an indication that their offence may be taking a positive turn.
In the first half on Thursday against New York, Toronto managed just 42 points on 35.7 per cent shooting. But the team was much improved in the second half, scoring 58 points, shooting 46.3 per cent from the floor and drilling 10 threes on an excellent 40 per cent from that range.
It was only 24 minutes of action, but given how poor Toronto’s offence has looked so far, any sign of life should be seen as a positive sign and something to build on.
Whether that actually proves to the case is yet to be seen, of course, but that will be the hope.