Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: All quiet ahead of Raptors-Hawks

If the Raptors win, they get to take Marco Belinelli with them.

It feels like the Toronto Raptors have already played the Atlanta Hawks too many times this year. I double-checked, and it’s only been twice. Wednesday marks a third meeting, and bless those Hawks, they’ve come around when the Raptors could use a win to get a bad taste out of their mouth every time. The two earlier meetings came after Toronto had dropped two in a row, and while the Raptors have only lost one game here – a winnable one in Minnesota – they’ve dropped four of seven for only the second time all year.

The Raptors enter with three days off behind them, meaning they should be plenty rested here. Despite that one commenter objecting, I happen to think Atlanta is a pretty good place to spend three days. A three-day break also came at a pretty good time – the Raptors had just finished up a travel back-to-back and a stretch of 14 games in 26 days (Dec. 26 to Jan. 20). They went 8-6 in that stretch, their most difficult by opponent so far this year, despite several players shooting poorly on threes and Kyle Lowry missing a few games. Their defense looked really sharp, too, with a few notable exceptions. In other words, the Raptors maybe deserved a breather, and they’ll now play 12 games in 22 days headed into the All-Star break.

The Hawks are not to be looked past despite being in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. They’ve won four of their last six, and all four wins have been impressive – they beat Denver handily in Denver, then beat San Antonio (short-handed, but still), New Orleans, and Utah at home. The Raptors mark the last game of a six-game home-stand for the Hawks (they weirdly have nine of 10 at home right now), and the Hawks figure to want to come out 4-2 rather than 3-3. Watch out for their ability to force turnovers, something Toronto doesn’t struggle with, and their ability to create second chances on the boards, something that Toronto has really struggled with of late.

The game tips off at 7:30 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
As noted, the Raptors should be pretty well rested here. Over the first 45 games of the season last year, Lowry ranked third in the NBA in total minutes and DeRozan was 12th. Fast-forward to this year (through teams’ 45th games only), and those rankings are 39th and 13th, respectively. Lowry has played 15.6 percent fewer minutes than this same time last year, DeRozan four more (but less per-game; he missed time right around this point last year due to an ankle sprain), and Serge Ibaka isn’t even in the top 100 for minutes so far, experiencing a 16-percent decrease. All of that is to say, the Raptors have done a pretty good job controlling the workloads of their primary pieces based on the only metric we really have available to us: minutes.

As the season wears on, I’d expect them to look for even more ways to rest them. That probably means the all-bench units persist, and it might even mean the rotation expands to 11 to include Norman Powell on some nights or for some particularly arduous stretches. The Hawks can’t be overlooked, of course, and while the first meeting saw ample garbage time to rest the stars, the second saw both guards go over 30 minutes because the Raptors struggled to close out. They’d surely love to go 12 or 13 deep here with a tough matchup coming back at home Friday.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Alfonzo McKinnie
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: None
905: Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller

Hawks updates
Atlanta received some bad news yesterday, as DeAndre’ Bembry’s comeback from a groin injury has hit a snag. The intriguing, if a little under-performing, sophomore has struggled to stay on the court this year, appearing in just 18 games. That’s created an opening for Taurean Prince to run with the starting small forward position and leave little question as to his claim over it while also opening up some additional wing minutes in the rotation. Those minutes could open up further if Marco Belinelli is dealt ahead of the trade deadline, which seems likely. The same could be said for Ersan Ilyasova, and Atlanta would probably listen on anyone not named John Collins. In other words, this highly fluid Hawks rotation could look a lot different in a few weeks.

In the interim, Mike Budenholzer has found some combinations that are working moderately well. The starters own a minus-2 net rating in 276 minutes and make little sense together, at least in the frontcourt. Swap Ilyasova and Miles Plumlee out for Luke Babbitt and Dewayne Dedmon, and the Hawks are plus-3.1 in 71 minutes. Get John Collins in there for Plumlee, and they’re a plus-3.3 in 47 minutes. None of these are decisive ratings or samples, but I’d expect the Hawks to have a different starting five by the All-Star break, whether via trade or a shift to the longview at one (or both) of those spots.

PG: Dennis Schroder, Malcolm Delaney, Isaiah Taylor
SG: Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Tyler Dorsey
SF: Taurean Prince, Luke Babbitt
PF: Ersan Ilysaova, John Collins, Tyler Cavanaugh
C: Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon, Mike Muscala
OUT: DeAndre’ Bembry
TBD: None
Erie: Andrew White

Assorted

The line
The Raptors are 6.5-point favorites on the road with a 214 over-under.

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