Beat the Orlando Magic by 14 points on Wednesday and the Toronto Raptors are owners of the biggest scoring differential in February in NBA history. Does that mean much? No, not at all. They lost two close games and hung on in one other, and those are the games and situations the team is focused on. And rightfully so. Still, blowing out just about everyone else they faced – inferior or equal – all month is a pretty cool footnote.
And the Raptors will be favored heavily here, though not quite by 14. Toronto is a top-five unit on both ends of the floor and comes in with no rest disadvantage or injuries, nor an upcoming back-to-back to worry about. They can just go out there and play, leaning heavily on their bench once again. The Magic have actually cobbled together a decent offense this year, but they’re a bottom-five defense and the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league, even with former Raptors favorite Bismack Biyombo. Other than occasionally push the pace – which isn’t good or bad necessarily – there’s not one thing the Magic do better than league average on a consistent basis. They’ve also dropped six games in a row after a short-lived three-game winning streak.
Still, there are challenges. Everyone knows what Biyombo can do around the rim, Nikola Vucevic is a fun test for Jonas Valanciunas
The game tips off at 7 on TSN and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
Given the Raptors’ dominance in February, it feels like an appropriate time to check in on how the success of the team, and bench in particular, has helped rest the stars. A good place to start is that DeMar DeRozan is the only player on the team averaging even 30 minutes over the last 10 games. Despite missing zero games this year, DeRozan ranks just 19th in total minutes played. Kyle Lowry is down at 51st. Serge Ibaka? 104th. These ranks matter. Or not the ranks, rather, but what they show in terms of team-wide fatigue. The less the toll on these players to this point, the less likely it is they need significant rest down the stretch and the more likely it is they reach the postseason in good form. What’s more, with the No. 1 seed in the balance and five back-to-backs still on the ledger (including a five-game week).
Anyway, you know how this goes by now. It’s a 10-man rotation, they’ll look to find minutes for Norman Powell, and they’ll turn things to Lucas Nogueira and Malcolm Miller if all goes well.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
905: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown
The Magic got some good news at shootaround, as Aaron Gordon was upgraded from questionable to in. Gordon’s been dealing with some hip soreness, and his absence would have left the Magic even more thin than they normally operate. Even if it hasn’t materialized dramatically in on/off impact – Gordon is sixth among Magic regulars with a minus-2.6 net rating and the team is minus-5.9 without him – he’s taken great strides in his fourth season in the league. His true-shooting percentage has nudged to a career-best on career-high usage, his three is falling at roughly a league-average clip on heavy volume, and a full-time move to power forward has agreed with him, as always seemed likely.
Also benefiting from a move to more time at the four has been Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick who is finally rewarding my unrelenting faith in him now that the Magic have let him his restricted free agency a year early. Hezonja is averaging 12.7 points in 25.7 minutes since Dec. 13, shooting 47.3/35.8/82.1 and actually providing some help on the glass and with steals. Over the last month, those numbers have edged even higher, and Hezonja is averaging 15.3 points while hitting 42.6 percent on nearly five threes per-game.
Orlando will still be without their brightest shining offensive star, though, as Terrence Ross remains sidelined. Jonathan Isaac is also out Marreese Speights is expected back after a short absence for personal reasons. The turnover and injuries on the Magic are such that they won’t have a single lineup available to them here that’s played even 100 minutes together yet, with the projected starters topping the list at 92 minutes (plus-0.5 net rating).
PG: D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack
SG: Jonathan Simmons, Rashad Vaughn, Arron Afflalo
SF: Evan Fournier, Wesley Iwundu
PF: Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja
C: Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Khem Birch, Marreese Speights
OUT: Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac
TBD: Marreese Speights
Lakeland: Jamel Artis
- Raptors 905 are at home tonight, overlapping with this game. Malcolm Miller is with the Raptors while Alfonzo McKinnie and Malachi Richardson are with the 905. Lorenzo Brown is still sidelined for Raptors 905 due to an ankle sprain. That makes five games and over two weeks on the shelf for a “mild” sprain that required a boot.
- A nice read over at The Athletic from Sam Sobolewski, on the Raptors’ valuing of talent above all else and the gender diversity in the organization that has resulted.
- Also over at The Athletic, I searched for historical precedent for a team as good as the Raptors to struggle in the first round and came up light.
- A fun piece at FanSided from Hershal Pandya on the history of weird Raptors advertising.
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) February 28, 2018
The Raptors are 9.5-point favorites with a 220.5 over-under.