What were the odds we would be here right now with the Raptors? Think about it. Was it possible to predict the injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka — in the same game no less! — while the team was out west on a five-game trip? How about what happened to Pat McCaw prior to that? And let’s not forget OG Anunoby, gouged in the face but thankfully returning tonight in Dallas to resume his awesome campaign. There have been a lot of injuries in a short period of time.
For a Toronto team acknowledged as having a thin roster, as being particularly at-risk to exposure from injury, this all should have been the death knell. It was the worst case scenario come to life. A waking nightmare. What were the odds it would all happen?
And were the odds the Raptors would be 3-1 over that same five-game stretch? What were the odds that save for one bad quarter in Los Angeles, they could have been a perfect 4-0? How could all of that happened?
The Raptors head into Dallas tonight to take on Luka Doncic and the 6-5 Mavericks. They’re the kind of team, centred around a new partnership between the reigning Rookie of the Year and (former?) unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, that could give Toronto trouble. Much like this latest run for the Raps, the Mavs are trying to prove they’ve got what it takes — regardless of their current form. They’ve got some talent, though Doncic and Porzingis aren’t quite analogous to Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and a smart coach in Rick Carlisle. The difference? They’re 1-3 over their past four games, the polar opposite of Toronto.
Below is all the info you need for tonight’s game in Dallas, including a few things to specifically watch out for.
Where to Watch:
TSN at 8:30pm EST
Dallas — None
Locking Up Luka
In his second season in the NBA, 20-year-old Luka Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game, while shootin 48 percent from the field, 31 percent from three (a suprising low number), and 83 percent from the free throw line. Doncic’s true shooting percentage is up at 61 percent, which is a wild number when considering both the volume of shots he takes and their usual degree of difficulty. Doncic is hard to stop, is my point.
But the Raptors on this west coast road trip have been the team to figure out how to slow down NBA superstars. Against the Lakers they bottled up (as much as they could) the individual efforts of both Anthony Davis and LeBron James; then on the next night they team united to slow Kawhi Leonard. Finally, just to prove they could handle backcourt players too, Toronto hounded Damian Lillard into a rough night too. Despite playing those four games without a few of their better, more experienced defenders, the Raptors were able to execute a game plan that kept some uber-talents in check. I’m not saying they can absolutely do that again tonight in Dallas on Doncic — who has his squad playing with the league’s second best offensive rating — but I wouldn’t exactly bet against it either. And I would love to see it happen (for lack of a better turn of phrase).
The Unsung Heroes
We’ve talked a lot lately about Siakam and VanVleet, and the Mavericks are obviously going to lean heavily on Doncic and Porzingis, their two leading scorers — but what of the rest of the rosters? Like the Raptors, the Mavs have a bench full of semi-unsung players, many of whom fit specific roles or play a certain way. Toronto fans will likely remember Tim Hardaway Jr. doing his thing against the Raps, Dwight Powell is a hard-working Canadian forward, Seth Curry has a touch of his namesake’s magic, and then of course there is our old friend Delon Wright, inscrutable to the end.
For the Raptors, spin the wheel and decide — will Rondae Hollis-Jefferson continue his run of controlled chaos? Can Chris Boucher keep making positive contributions through sheer confidence? Does Terence Davis stay ahead of his Cinderella narrative for one more night? There are admittedly a lot of questions to keep in one’s head at the same time, yet the Raptors’ bench keeps changing the answers and keeping things interesting. And now we can all look forward to the return of Anunoby who should offer just a bit more stability (and ability) to the team too. Assuming Siakam and VanVleet play Doncic and Porzingis to something like a draw, it’ll be in these margins where the game tonight is won.
Sigh… Moad Lanagement
OK, let’s talk about it. As fun as Toronto’s bench narratives have been over the past week, the real story here is the play of Siakam and VanVleet. During this road trip, Pascal is averaging 30.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, while his backcourt partner Fred is putting up 19.8 points and 9.0 assists. Take them off the Raptors at this given moment and things fall apart for the team in a hurry. As such, during this road trip the pair has also ranked one-two in minutes per game — 41.6 for Siakam, 40.2 for VanVleet. It’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering where the pair was just two years ago, but we know it’s not sustainable over an 82 game season.
The problem of course is that there is no easy solution, save for potentially giving games away. As continues to be the case for the most part, the Raptors have needed one or both of Siakam and FVV on the court at all times to act as organizer, fulcrum, release valve, and whatever else the squad needs to win. Timely contributions from the bench have helped, sure, but the Raps’ winning outcomes ultimately tie back to the excellence of Siakam and VanVleet. Can they do it all again tonight in Dallas after two days off? How about the week after that, and after that, and so on? I hate to end this preview on a down note, but it’s worth noting.