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DeRozan, Raptors even up season series with Wizards

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Josh Weinstein

DeMar DeRozan’s 33 points, eight rebounds, and six assists helped the Toronto Raptors (11-5) enact revenge on the Washington Wizards (9-7) with a 100-91 win at Air Canada Centre. Toronto improved to a perfect 4-0 in games DeRozan scores 30 or more points, and also extended its winning streak to four games.

With John Wall sitting out for the second time this season against the Raptors, Bradley Beal put on a shooting clinic in the first half, finishing with 23 points on 60 percent shooting. Considering Beal had a game-high 38 points the last time these two teams met on November 5, it wasn’t unrealistic to think he’d reach or surpass that point total this afternoon.

Well, any hopes of Beal reaching the 40-point plateau for the second time this season were quickly put to rest in the second half. Toronto’s defence limited the shooting guard to just four points in the second half, which ultimately neutralized most of the Wizards offence that was relying on him to produce and create for others, especially with Wall out.

Kyle Lowry’s shooting stroke cooled off a bit in the win, but he was still able to be effective in other facets of the game. Not only did he get others involved, but he didn’t try to force too much offensively. Instead, he recognized DeRozan was on his A-game and adjusted accordingly by trying to get him the ball early and often.

Pascal Siakam deserves a shoutout, too. He led the Raptors in plus/minus at +18 and used his speed to get back on defence and swat a couple shot attempts well out of harm’s way. Even after being removed from the starting five because of Serge Ibaka’s return, Siakam remained poised and put in solid a effort across 31 minutes.

It appears Lucas Nogueira’s minutes aren’t gone after all. Nogueira played 14 minutes – four more than Jakob Poeltl – and was the first big off the bench. With head coach Dwane Casey continuing to roll with an 11-man rotation, constantly fluctuating minutes shouldn’t really surprise us any longer.

The Raptors next play on Wednesday, November 22, when they'll look to improve to 2-0 against the New York Knicks.

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Streaking Raptors out for revenge against Wizards

Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors (10-5) have been rolling, winning three consecutive games and five of their last six. During their brief winning streak, the Raps have - for the most part - dominated, outscoring the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, and New York Knicks by a combined 48 points.

Kyle Lowry finally hitting his stride and DeMar DeRozan's scoring efficiency – he’s hit 56 percent of his field goals in the past three games – are just two of the many factors driving Toronto's success of late. Whether it's the human energizer bunny Pascal Siakam sprinting up the floor with reckless abandonment and filling in admirably for Serge Ibaka in the starting five, or OG Anunoby providing much-needed defensive intensity to the team's starting unit, almost everyone on the Raptors roster is contributing in meaningful ways.

This streaking Raptors team should put forth a much stronger effort against the Washington Wizards (9-6) this afternoon (3:30 PM ET), considering the circumstances last time these squads met. Toronto was coming off a brutal six-game road trip and seemed exhausted from the opening tip when Washington was in town on November 5. Aside from the exhaustion, Lowry still hadn't returned to his all-star form which made generating offence that much more challenging from the get-go.

Also, the Raps weren’t knocking anything down from distance two weeks ago. That facet of the team’s game has certainly changed, as Toronto now ranks 19th league-wide with a 35.4 three-point percentage. The past six games are the main reason for the vast improvement. Toronto has knocked down 43.1 percent of its threes (third-best in the NBA) during that span.

John Wall didn’t play last time the Wizards and Raptors met at Air Canada. He may not dress once again due to swelling in his left knee that’s causing him discomfort. Wall is officially listed as questionable. Once again, expect the Wiz to err on the side of caution with their star point guard.

OG Anunoby remains in the starting lineup, with Norman Powell still recovering from injuries. Serge Ibaka is expected to return after dealing with soreness in his knee.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Washington Wizards

  • PG John Wall – Tim Frazier will likely start if Wall can’t go
  • SG Bradley Beal
  • SF Otto Porter
  • PF Markieff Morris
  • C Marcin Gortat

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Four things that stood out from the Knicks/Raptors game

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Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors (10-5) embarrassed the New York Knicks (8-7) by 23 points, 107-84 the final. Here are the biggest takeaways I gathered after the Raptors convincing win.

Lowry is officially back

If his recent string of games didn't prove it already, Kyle Lowry's performance last night against the Knicks cemented the fact that the Raptors most important player is ready to put his underwhelming start to the season behind him. He flirted with a triple-double for the second straight game, finishing with 22 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds. Aside from a balanced stat line, Lowry had his most efficient game this season, nailing 8/12 shots, including 5/7 from distance.

Lowry's been picking his spots better and far more assertive in the last week or so, which indicates his adjustment period into the Raps newfound offence has concluded. Considering the Raptors offence was still top-5 in the league without Lowry on his game, it's scary to think how much more dangerous it could become with the team's floor general at the peak of his powers.

Porzingis who?

All the hype surrounding Kristaps Porzingis' visit to the Air Canada Centre was well-deserved. After all, the 7'3" matchup nightmare had single-handedly returned the Knicks to relevancy. Against the Raptors, though, the Zinger was really off his game. 

He finished with just 13 points - less than half his season average - on an uncharacteristic 3 for 13 shooting night. Porzingis did have four blocks, but couldn't make a difference on the offensive end. Normally he's hard to contain both outside the arc and in the paint, but against the Raptors, he was surprisingly average.

Knicks FG percentage

Porzingis wasn't the only one struggling offensively. His entire team was.

The Knicks shot just 33 percent from the field, and not one player finished with more than 13 points.

The X-Factor

C.J. Miles had a field day putting the ball in the bucket once again, scoring 14 points on just five shots. Yes, you read that correctly. Only five shots.

If Miles continues to be a consistent threat from anywhere outside the paint, it will allow the Raptors to continue taking advantage of spaced-out defences by creating wide open lanes for drivers time and time again.

The Raptors next play Sunday, November 19, at home against the Wizards.

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Surging Raptors host Porzingis and the Knicks

Josh Weinstein

After a day off, the Toronto Raptors (9-5) return home to Air Canada Centre to host Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks (8-6) at 7:30 PM ET.

Since Carmelo Anthony’s offseason departure, Porzingis has been a man on a mission, changing the vibe around the Knicks from mediocrity to respectability. The 7’3” unicorn has averaged 28.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 13 games this season and will be a massive challenge for Toronto’s defence to neutralize.

The Raptors should hold their heads high ahead of this matchup, though, especially when it comes to their chances of limiting Porzingis. They’ve won four of their past five games, and in two of those games, they successfully contained the Pelicans elite frontcourt of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Toronto tried to push both Cousins and Davis out of the paint. I’d imagine they’ll try to execute a similar game plan against Porzingis.

Even if Porzingis goes off, the Raptors have a strong enough offence to outlast the Knicks. Entering the game, they have the league’s third-best offensive rating at 110.2, behind the Warriors and Rockets.

Toronto will be without backup point guard Delon Wright for the foreseeable future after he dislocated his right shoulder on Wednesday against the Pelicans. Fred VanVleet has been effective in small spurts this season and will likely take Wright’s minutes until he returns to the court.

Norman Powell is listed as doubtful for tonight’s game. He’s missed the last two contests after suffering a right hip pointer against the Celtics this past weekend. OG Anunoby will continue to start in his place at small forward.

Knicks shooting guard Courtney Lee is questionable ahead of tonight’s game.

Projected starting lineups: 

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

New York Knicks

  • PG Jarrett Jack
  • SG Courtney Lee – Damyean Dotson would fill in for Lee if he can’t go.
  • SF Tim Hardaway
  • PF Kristaps Porzingis
  • C Enes Kanter

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Lowry, Raptors battle back to down Pelicans

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Josh Weinstein

Another strong offensive performance propelled the Raptors over the Pelicans 125-116 at Smoothie King Center on Wednesday night. It’s the first time in franchise history the Raps have scored 125 points or more in consecutive games, which is further proof that when shots are falling in the team’s revamped pace and space offence, it’s a pretty sight to behold. The feat is even more impressive considering Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back.

Kyle Lowry has started looking like the Lowry of old, finally. After a slow start to the season, Lowry finally eclipsed the 20-point mark and finished one assist shy of a triple-double (22 points, 9 assists, 11 rebounds) in the W. What a welcome sight it is to see Lowry comfortable in his new role within the Raptors offence.

C.J. Miles was an offensive sparkplug off the bench for a second straight outing, hitting five three-pointers in just 18 minutes of action. When Miles shot is falling, it opens up the floor up that much more for Toronto, allowing for a potentially lethal inside-out game. Valanciunas took advantage of the Pelicans spread out defence, attacking inside to create free throw opportunities (9/9 from the line) and high-percentage looks (6 of 8 FGs).

DeMar DeRozan finished with a team-high 25 points. He certainly could have attacked more and taken more than 18 shots, but realized with Miles and the rest of the Raptors having such a hot shooting night, distributing was the best course of action to take.

Not only were the Raps getting whatever looks they wanted on the offensive end (47 percent on threes, 27 assists), but their defensive gameplan against the Pelicans big men worked as well as it did the first time these two teams met.

Toronto invited DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis to shoot jumpers, so long as it meant both stayed outside of the paint. Jonas Valanciunas, in particular, did a stellar job of keeping Cousins outside of the paint once again. Whenever Valanciunas matched up with Cousins this season, the Lithuanian surprisingly won the matchup.

As mentioned in our game preview, Cousins and Davis are always going to get their numbers, but it’s a matter of making them work hard for everything and letting them beat you outside rather than in the paint that makes the difference by game’s end. After two meetings with the Pelicans, the Raptors’ bigs and coaching staff should be proud of how well they limited them.

Unfortunately, Toronto’s win did come at a cost. Delon Wright headed to the locker room with a shoulder injury after reaching over Cousins to try and haul in an offensive rebound. Wright did not return and will be evaluated in Toronto. Fred VanVleet will fill in as Lowry’s backup while Wright is out. The Raptors hope their backup point isn’t out indefinitely, considering how well he’s played as a leader of the bench unit.

The Raptors are back in action when they host the New York Knicks on Friday.

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Raptors and Pelicans get set for second meeting of season

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The next Hoop Talks live event is TOMORROWBe sure to purchase tickets to attend here. Look forward to seeing you at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Josh Weinstein

Last time the Raptors (8-5) and Pelicans (8-6) met, Toronto successfully contained DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis on the way to a hard-fought win. On Wednesday night (8:00 PM ET), New Orleans gets its chance to enact revenge at Smoothie King Center and even the season series with Toronto at one game apiece.

With Cousins and Davis neutralized, for the most part, Jrue Holiday was on fire against the Raptors on November 9, finishing with a season-high 34 points and 11 helpers. Holiday’s performance was likely an outlier and he likely won’t burn the Raptors again, especially if OG Anunoby is tasked with guarding him. Anunoby guarded Holiday for the entire fourth quarter last week, limiting him to just two points.

The Raps are coming off arguably their most impressive win of the season in Houston, a game that saw Anunoby, C.J. Miles, and Delon Wright each have their best games of 2017. Miles hit six of his nine three-point attempts, Wright knocked down all five of his field goals, while Anunoby finished with 16 points and played stellar defence on James Harden all night long.

After a performance like that, you’d have to figure Dwane Casey will look to shrink his rotation going forward to allow for his team, particularly the bench unit, to gain more chemistry together. Currently, Casey alternates between 12 different players on any given night. Expect the rotation size to decrease to 10 within the next few games. With Jakob Poeltl solidifying his backup centre role with each passing game, expect Lucas Nogueira to be one of the Raps that lose out on playing time. Fred VanVleet has played well in spurts, but there simply aren't enough minutes to go around that would warrant his inclusion in the rotation long-term.

Kyle Lowry has been trending in the right direction on the offensive end in his last four contests. He's averaging just over 18 points per game and 7.5 assists during that span, showing signs of breaking out. After a lengthy adjustment period, Lowry appears to finally getting comfortable with his new role in the offence.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG Jrue Holiday
  • SG E'Twaun Moore
  • SF Dante Cunningham
  • PF Anthony Davis
  • C DeMarcus Cousins

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Raptors halt Rockets win streak at six games

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The next Hoop Talks live event is TOMORROWBe sure to purchase tickets to attend here. Look forward to seeing you at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Josh Weinstein

What a game it was for the Toronto Raptors.

A team-record 45 points in the second quarter. An astounding 76 points by halftime, the most recorded in one half by any team this season (and three off the re. A season-high 129 points.

It seemed on Tuesday night, the Raptors could do no wrong on the offensive end in their 129-113 win over the Houston Rockets. With the win, Toronto snapped Houston’s winning streak at six games.

The usual contributors had impressive performances, with Kyle Lowry recording a 19 point, 10 assist double-double, and DeMar DeRozan dropping in a team-high 27 points. But it was the team’s unsung heroes stepping up who really made a difference by night’s end.

C.J. Miles had a great shooting night – which was long overdue – finishing with 19 points on 6/9 three-pointers. Miles wasn’t the only Rap to get it going, though.

OG Anunoby scored 16 points and played stellar defence once again. After some hesitation, I’m ready to say this: OG Anunoby is my new favourite Toronto Raptor. How can't you love the guy's game? He brings it every night, and in doing so, shows off flashes of his immense potential every time he steps out on the floor. In just 13 games, the rookie has become a fan favourite. Man, does he have a bright future ahead. What other rookies could you task with guarding James Harden? The answer is none of them.

Delon Wright scored 14 points on a perfect 5/5 shooting night to round out the Raptors who had standout games.

Despite shooting just 8 for 25, James Harden still finished with 38 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. Harden’s scoring night was in large part due to his relentless attacking of the rim that led to 19 free throws. If you know Harden, you won’t be surprised that the All-NBA talent sunk all 19 shots from the charity stripe.

Clint Capela finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the loss for Houston.

Toronto next plays in New Orleans on Wednesday. It’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Raps.

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Raptors looking for huge upset over Rockets

The next Hoop Talks live event is just two days away! Be sure to purchase tickets to attend here. Look forward to seeing you at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Josh Weinstein

The Raptors (7-5) squandered their chance at halting the NBA’s longest active winning streak last time out against the Celtics. Now, they’ll have a chance to end another in Houston at 8 PM ET.

The Rockets (11-3) are riding a six-game winning streak of their own, with no signs of slowing down. James Harden has been playing out of his mind in his last six contests, putting up other-worldly averages of 35.8 points and 11.5 assists. Harden’s been the catalyst for Houston’s ridiculous offence, which has scored 120 points per game during that span. Overall, Houston averages the third most points per game league-wide (111.1) and are tied with Golden State for the best record in the Western Conference.

This game is certainly a huge test for Kyle Lowry. He’s shown signs of snapping out of his offensive rut, and against a Rockets team, the Raptors are going to need undoubtedly his best performance of the season on that end.

OG Anunoby is also someone to look out for. While he doesn't put up eye-popping offensive numbers by any means, Dwane Casey has already shown he values Anunoby's defence, especially in late game situations. That prompts the question: is there any way that we see Anunoby try and contain Harden at some point if the game is tight? If that's not throwing a rook into the biggest of moments to see what he's made of, I don't know what is.

Contrarily to popular belief, Chris Paul’s absence has been a minor blessing in disguise for Houston. Harden’s once again taken the reigns as the team’s point guard, which has seen him put up numbers similar to those from MVP-calibre 2016-17 season. It seems when Harden’s usage rate soars, so too do the Rockets number of wins.

Aside from Harden’s production soaring, the Rockets role players have also gotten a chance to solidify their roles, so that when Paul comes back, it’s not as big an adjustment for the team collectively.

It will be intriguing to see what happens when Paul returns. Paul will have to adjust his game to fit the Rockets style of play, rather than the other way around. That starts with ridding himself of his typical ball-stopping habits, and learning to play off the ball instead. He had trouble adjusting in the Rockets season opener, as the former Clippers floor general looked lost on the offensive end. You’d have to figure a player of Paul’s calibre will be able to adjust to his new circumstances in the long run, though. The adjustment process will become much easier once he accepts this is Harden’s team and that the offence works best with Harden as its primary ball handler.

Norman Powell is listed as doubtful, as he continues to recover from a right hip pointer he suffered in Boston. Expect Anunoby to start in Powell’s absence.

Here are tonight’s projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF OG Anunoby
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Houston Rockets

  • PG James Harden
  • SG Eric Gordon
  • SF Trevor Ariza
  • PF Ryan Anderson
  • C Clint Capela

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Irving-less Celtics edge Raptors for 12th straight win

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Our next Hoop Talks live event is under one week away! Be sure to purchase tickets to attend here. Look forward to seeing you at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Josh Weinstein

Entering this afternoon’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Raptors had a chance to do something they’d never done: end a win streak of 10 or more games. Boy, were they close to pulling that off at TD Garden. Unfortunately for them, though, the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics (12-2) narrowly squeaked by the Raptors (7-5) in a 95-94 thriller to earn their 12th straight win.

After showing signs of heating up in his past two outings, Kyle Lowry got off to a sizzling start for Toronto, scoring 11 of the team’s 24 points in the opening quarter. With 14 points at halftime, it looked as though Lowry would finally score 20 points or more for the first time this season, yet for some inexplicable reason, he disappeared in the second half. It was odd to say the least, considering Lowry shot the ball effectively (3/5 from distance) in the first 24 minutes. He’d end up finishing the game with 19 points and 7 assists. Assertive Lowry is the best type of Lowry. He needs to have his bulldog mindset engaged for a full 48 minutes, not just show glimpses of it in spurts.

From the opening tip, Boston controlled the pace of play, forcing Toronto into half-court sets for most of the game. As a result, the Raptors struggled to move the ball like we’ve seen early on this season and finished with only 18 assists.

Norman Powell left the game in the first quarter and did not return, after suffering a right hip pointer. According to the Toronto Sun's Mike Ganter, Powell left the arena on crutches. Yikes.

Powell’s absence allowed OG Anunoby and C.J. Miles to get more playing time. Both had solid outings, but of the two, Anunoby stood out most. He played exceptional defence yet again and got some playing time with the starting unit, which reinforces how much Casey’s trust in him continues to grow. He even threw in a few flashy dunks to show off his athleticism. The rookie’s play has been one of the biggest bright spots for this team through 12 games. It’s hard to believe he’s still recovering from an ACL tear and isn’t yet 100 percent physically.

With less than a minute to go in the fourth with Toronto down by a point, DeMar DeRozan’s potential game-winner rimmed out. Jayson Tatum secured the board, but as he made his way up the court he appeared to elbow Fred VanVleet, which ended up giving the Raptors another chance with 13 seconds remaining. Once again, DeRozan went one-on-one, and once again, DeRozan’s shot rimmed out.

The Raptors need to stop reverting to isolation ball when the game is on the line and they need a bucket most. That style of play has burned them countless times. Hopefully for their sake, they realize improving late-game execution should be one of their biggest concerns as the season progresses.

DeRozan had a team-high 24 points for Toronto. Al Horford was Boston's leading scorer with 21 points, while Jaylen Brown chipped in 18 of his own. The Celtics have a chance to extend their winning streak to 13 games when they face the Brooklyn Nets on November 14.

The Raptors are also back in action on November 14 when they take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

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Raptors trying to snap Celtics 11-game winning streak

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Our next Hoop Talks live event is under one week away! Be sure to purchase tickets to attend here. Look forward to seeing you at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Josh Weinstein

It’s one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the young season. Well, it was, until Kyrie Irving was ruled out after sustaining a broken bone in his face. The Toronto Raptors (7-4) travel to Beantown to face the East-leading Boston Celtics (11-2) at TD Garden.

With or without Irving, the Raptors are in for a ginormous test, one that should test their character in every way imaginable. The C’s enter this afternoon’s game riding a league-best 11 game winning streak. Even with Irving unlikely to dress, Boston still has the depth and momentum right now to grind out a win against an Atlantic division rival, at home no less.

The fact Boston has been so successful right out of the gates is incredible, considering how many new faces are on the roster. Only four players (Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart) remain from last season. The typical adjustment period for new players joining a new team seems not to apply to the Celtics.

Aside from Irving, rookie Jayson Tatum has been the team’s most reliable scoring option. The former Duke standout is averaging 13.7 PPG in 30 minutes per game. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and from three-point range, and gets to the free throw line four times per game as well. Safe to say the Celtics are thrilled with their decision to trade back in the draft for their new stud small forward.

Toronto is on a mini two-game winning streak of its own, with wins over Chicago and New Orleans. Expect the Dinos to be fresh this afternoon, as they haven’t played since November 9. This is the first of three meetings with Boston. You can bet the Raps are looking to make a statement with a big win. Almost everyone labelled the Celtics as the strongest Atlantic division team for a second consecutive season. The Raptors want to prove the doubter wrong and show that with a revamped offensive focus, they mean business and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Dwane Casey called out his team’s defence in their 122-118 win against the Pelicans. Expect a stronger effort on that end against the Celtics for 48 minutes. With Irving out of the lineup, that should make matters a little bit less hectic for Toronto.

Kyle Lowry is coming into his own of late. The three-time all-star has shot 7 of 13 from the field in consecutive games and seems to be acclimating himself to his new role in the Raps offence. Lowry doesn’t have the ball as often as in seasons past, especially in isolation sets, so it took him some time to accept playing off the ball more. In recent games, he’s been picking his spots well, scoring and attacking the rim when his team needs it most. Expect another strong outing from Lowry, especially with the chance to make a statement on the line. You can only keep a proven all-star down so long.

Tip-off is set for 3:30PM ET.

Projected starting lineups:

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF Norman Powell
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

Boston Celtics

  • PG Terry Rozier
  • SG Jaylen Brown
  • SF Jayson Tatum
  • PF Marcus Morris
  • C Al Horford (probable) – Baynes would replace Horford if he’s out of lineup.

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Raptors down Pelicans in an offensive showdown

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Be sure to purchase tickets to attend our next Hoop Talks live event at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017. You can buy your tickets here.

Josh Weinstein

DeMar DeRozan had undoubtedly his best game of the young season, finishing with a team-high 33 points and 8 assists to help the Raptors edge the Pelicans 122-118 in a wildly entertaining game at Air Canada Centre.

DeRozan got off to a hot start, nailing his first two shots from the field, both three-pointers. Then to cap off his 12-point first quarter, he nailed a turnaround buzzer-beater with just over a second remaining. He ended up also knocking down another last-second shot right before halftime.

The big storyline heading into this game was whether the Raptors would be able to contain the lethal Pelicans frontcourt comprised of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The pair entered the contest averaging a whopping 57 points, yet against Toronto they finished with just 38 points on an uncharacteristic 29 percent shooting. Credit must go out to the combination of Jakob Poeltl, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas. All three did a great job contesting shots and disrupting passing lanes, which made it tough for Cousins and Davis to establish a two-man game.

With Cousins and Davis having rare off-nights for their standards, Jrue Holiday took centre stage with one of the best performances of his career. He shot a ridiculous 14 for 20 (70 percent) from the field and finished with 34 points, just four off his career-high. Unfortunately for Holiday, he only scored two points in the fourth quarter as a result of being matched up against the lengthy OG Anunoby.

Kyle Lowry itched oh so close to reaching the 20-point plateau for the first time this season, but couldn’t quite get there. Lowry heated up as the game progressed after a slow first quarter, shooting an efficient 54 percent on 13 shots to finish with 18 points. What I noticed most from Lowry was how he recognized crucial moments his team needed him to score most down the stretch, and then stepped up accordingly. This was on display especially in the fourth quarter, with Lowry nailing a few clutch shots to extend the Raptors’ slim lead.

News & Notes

  • Serge Ibaka made three of six attempts from beyond the arc as part of his impressive 19-point, 8 rebound performance. The Raptors shot 16 of 42 from three-point range collectively.
  • Play of the game has to go to OG Anunoby. Midway through the fourth, the rook faked out Holiday in the corner, gathered momentum, then soared up over the outstretched arm of Davis.
  • The Raptors next play on Sunday, November 12th against the Celtics in a highly-anticipated Atlantic division matchup.

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Raptors face big test against Pelicans all-star big men

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Be sure to purchase tickets to attend our next Hoop Talks live event at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017. You can buy your tickets here.

Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors (6-4) conclude their brief three-game stint at Air Canada Centre with an intriguing matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans (6-5). Toronto is coming off a win over the Chicago Bulls, while New Orleans enters tonight’s game having won three straight. The Pelicans are above .500 for the first time since 2014-15, the last season the team qualified for the postseason.

The mainreason for the team's 6-5 start is DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The former Kentucky Wildcat products make up the most lethal front-court right now in the NBA, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Both Cousins and Davis regularly dominate opposing big men. Now, with some experience sharing the floor together, the duo is learning to play off each other. That’s a terrifying prospect for the rest of the NBA, particularly opposing fours and fives.

No other four-five duo can rebound, block shots, distribute, and score anywhere on the floor the way Cousins and Davis do. I mean, really, look at these godly numbers:

  • Cousins: 28.9 PPG, 13.6 REB, 5.8 AST, 1.9 BLK, 1.7 STL
  • Davis: 28.4 PPG, 12.8 REB, 2.6 AST, 2.1 BLK, 1.2 STL

The Cousins/Davis duo combines for a tad over 57 points per night, and the Pelicans average 106 per game as a team, so shutting Cousins and Davis down offensively essentially means you’re taking away over half of the team’s scoring punch. As an 11-game sample size has proven, though, limiting one or both of the Pelicans all-stars is a nearly impossible task.

Considering how the Raptors starting frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas haven’t quite developed the greatest chemistry when sharing the floor together, Cousins and Davis could have a field day down low. Ibaka isn’t quite the interior presence from seasons past, while Valanciunas’ defensive struggles are already well-documented.

Tonight’s game is a huge test for the Raptors bigs. We’ll see if they’re up to the task when the game tips-off at 7:30 PM ET.

Here are the projected starting lineups for both teams:

Toronto Raptors

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF Norman Powell
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG Jrue Holiday
  • SG E’Twaun Moore
  • SF Dante Cunningham
  • PF Anthony Davis
  • C DeMarcus Cousins

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Starting unit shines as Raptors survive Bulls' comeback attempt 

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Be sure to purchase tickets to attend our next Hoop Talks live event at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017. You can buy your tickets here.

Josh Weinstein

After a disappointing performance against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors (6-4) were able to regroup in the second game of their three-game homestand, defeating the Chicago Bulls (2-7) at Air Canada Centre 119-114. Toronto now leads the season series against Chicago 2-0.

The Raps starting unit had a statement game against the Bulls in the wake of recent struggles, as four of the team's five starters finished in double-figures while shooting 50 percent or better. DeMar DeRozan finished with a team-high 24 points, but it was the play of Jonas Valanciunas that really stood out, at least on the offensive end. The Lithuanian finished with a 21 point, 10 rebound double-double and missed just one of his seven field goals in just 24 minutes. If not for his struggles containing Robin Lopez, who was able to convert 10 of his 11 shots for the Bulls, Valanciunas would have been far and away the best Raptor of the game.

Kyle Lowry bounced back from a short outing against Washington that saw him ejected in the second quarter, aggressively attacking the rim en route to 17 points, 6 boards and 6 assists. It was one of the more complete games from Lowry early this season and a very encouraging performance that could signal the best is yet to come for the floor general.

While the starting unit did thrive, the second unit once again played a vital role in helping to blow the game wide open early on. A dominant second quarter mostly led by the second unit put Toronto in front by a comfortable 20 points entering halftime. Chicago cut into its sizeable deficit, pulling the score to within single-digits late in the fourth, but ultimately the visitor’s comeback attempt proved to be too little, too late.

After serving an eight-game suspension following a practice altercation that left fellow forward Nikola Mirotic with facial fractures, Bobby Portis made his anticipated season debut for Chicago. Portis showed barely any signs of rust, finishing with 21 points and 13 rebounds on just 13 shots off the bench. Expect Portis to get an uptick in minutes going forward.

Next up: Pelicans @ Raptors, Thursday, November 9, 2017, 7:30PM ET

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Bulls in T.O. trying to even up season series with Raptors

Be sure to purchase tickets to attend our next Hoop Talks live event at The Rivoli on Thursday, November 16, 2017. You can buy your tickets here.

Josh Weinstein

The Chicago Bulls (2-6) return to the Air Canada Centre for the second time this season to battle it out against the Toronto Raptors (5-4). Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30PM ET. Last time these two teams met back on October 19, the Raps won 117-100.

A matchup against the Bulls would be one the Raptors dreaded in recent years. After all, the Bulls are the same organization that won a whopping 11 straight games versus Canada’s lone NBA franchise over a nearly three-year period (February 19, 2014 – February 14, 2017). It feels like eons since then, though, as much of the star-power the Bulls once possessed left the windy city over the years. Teams no longer dread playing the Bulls. Instead, they welcome them to town with open arms.

The squad from Chi-Town own the Association’s lowest scoring offence as they score a measly 91.9 points per game. If it weren’t for the Sacramento Kings, that points per game average would be a full six points fewer than the next lowest scoring team. The Bulls do have a top-10 level defence so far this season, but their offensive woes are so troublesome that it hasn’t really mattered.

Given the inferior opposition they’ll be facing, the Raptors are understandably favoured entering tonight. Even so, there are some kinks that need fixing within the club.

Figuring out the most effective starting lineup going forward is crucial. In recent games, the five-man unit of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas has struggled mightily, especially in comparison to how the bench players’ have performed. While some of the starters’ challenges can be blamed on Lowry’s slow start, or on the duo of Ibaka and Valanciunas still nursing themselves back to full health, there are significant chemistry issues that need addressing nonetheless. Your best lineup can’t be exclusively filled with reserves rather than the team’s superior talent making the big bucks.

Also, I’m shocked that even with all the three-point attempts the Raptors miss on a game-by-game basis, the team still is able to trot out a top-ten NBA offence. It will be interesting to see whether that lasts throughout the season.

Projected starting lineups: 

TORONTO RAPTORS

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF Norman Powell
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas
     

CHICAGO BULLS

  • PG Jerian Grant
  • SG Justin Holiday
  • SF Paul Zipser
  • PF Lauri Markkanen
  • C Robin Lopez

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Raptors comeback falls short against Wizards

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Josh Weinstein

No John Wall? No problem.

With the Washington Wizards’ star point guard out of the lineup battling shoulder soreness, Bradley Beal put the team’s offence on his back. Beal led all scorers with 38 points, helping the Wizards edge the Toronto Raptors 107-96 on Sunday at Air Canada Centre.

The Wizards came out of the gates executing all facets of their game, finishing the first quarter with a lopsided 32-17 lead. The Raps tried their best throughout the game to trim the deficit, eventually pulling to within three points in the fourth quarter to make the score 90-87. That would be as close as Toronto got, though, as Washington pulled away shortly after and rebuilt its double-digit advantage. The Raptors did not lead at any point in the game.

In our Wizards/Raptors game preview, the idea of Kyle Lowry making headlines with another strong offensive showing was thrown around. It seemed plausible, considering how he performed in Utah two days prior. Well, Lowry ended up making headlines for an entirely different reason, as he was ejected in the second quarter following back-to-back technical fouls. Lowry’s absence certainly didn’t help the Raps chances, although Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet did fill in admirably for the remainder of the game. Both guards finished in double-figures and shot the ball efficiently.

Speaking of reserves filling in admirably for the starters, on this night the Raptors bench unit put on a much stronger showing than the team’s starters. The Raps starting five shot a combined 40 percent, while the reserves combined to shoot 17 for 30. When you consider that field goal efficiency includes C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby’s off-shooting nights (the duo combined to shoot 0 for 7 on FGs), it helps put in perspective how superb an outing the bench had.

News & Notes

  • Despite the losing effort, Norman Powell deserves a shout out for his exceptional game. Powell had 19 points on 54 percent shooting to go along with two steals and two blocks.
  • The Raptors’ struggles from three-point range continued. They shot an abysmal 5 of 24 on threes (21 percent). Raptors fans’ best bet right now is to hope the team’s long-range shooting woes are temporary. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t given them reason to believe that at this point.
  • Up next: Bulls (2-6) @ Raptors (5-4), Tuesday, November 7. 7:30 PM ET

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Raptors return home to face Wizards

Josh Weinstein

Two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams from a season ago get set to clash at the Air Canada Centre, when the Toronto Raptors (5-3) return home for the first time in over two weeks to host the Washington Wizards (4-4). Sunday’s game tips off at 6PM ET and is the first of three straight for Toronto at home.

Last season, the Raptors held a slight edge in the season series against the Wizards, winning two of three meetings.

There are a few potential player absences to note ahead of tip-off.

John Wall suffered a shoulder injury last time out against the Cavaliers, so his status for tonight’s game remains murky. While he’s officially listed as questionable against the Raptors, expect the Washington to air on the side of caution with their star point guard, especially this early in the season. If he’s not 100 percent, there’s no point of putting him in a situation that could potentially worsen the injury.

Washington’s offence will take a big hit if Wall isn’t able to go. With Wall in the lineup, the Wizards score the third-most points per game in the league at 113.5. In eight games this season, Wall has averaged 20.5 PPG and 10.4 APG.

If Wall doesn’t play, look for Kyle Lowry to have an offensive field day against the guard combination of Tim Frazier and Tomas Satoransky. Lowry showed signs of heating up against Utah on Friday, so we’ll see if he can continue that during the Raps’ homestand.

C.J. Miles missed the Raptors last game in Utah due to an illness. He’s listed as day-to-day prior to game-time.

Here are Sunday’s projected starting lineups:

TORONTO RAPTORS

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF Norman Powell
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas

 WASHINGTON WIZARDS

  • PG John Wall (Tim Frazier could start if Wall sits)
  • SG Bradley Beal
  • SF Otto Porter
  • PF Markieff Morris
  • C Marcin Gortat 

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DeMar DeRozan shines against the Jazz

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Josh Weinstein

As mentioned in our Raptors/Jazz game preview, DeMar DeRozan tends not to produce low scoring outputs in consecutive games. He proved that once again, scoring a season-high 37 points in the Raptors 109-100 win in Salt Lake City.

DeRozan needed just 20 shots to reach the 37-point mark, which shows how efficient a game he had. The reigning third-team All-NBA forward knocked down 10 of his 20 field goals, including three of seven from long range.

DeRozan’s backcourt mate Kyle Lowry also had an excellent showing. He finished with a double-double (15 points, 10 assists) and converted more than 50 percent of his field goals for the third time this season (and first time since the team faced the Philadelphia 76ers back in October). Hopefully for Raptors fans, Lowry’s performance against the Jazz becomes more of the norm going forward. When the Raptors backcourt produces like it did on Friday night, it becomes that much more challenging for opponents to contain the team on the offensive end. 

Even without the sharpshooting C.J. Miles, Toronto grinded out a tough win and handed Utah its first home loss of the season. Against a tough defensive team, and on the final game of a six-game road trip, this win really showed the strong resolve and character of this year’s Raptors team.

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka each received an uptick in minutes in their second game back from injury. Valanciunas played 20 minutes and finished with 6 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks. Ibaka added 10 points in 26 minutes.

Also, Pascal Siakam deserves a shout out; he had yet another impressive performance with 8 points and 3 steals in limited minutes.

Donovan Mitchell led the way for Utah with 25 points off the bench.

After finishing .500 on their West Coast road trip (3-3), the Raptors return to the Air Canada Centre for the first time since October 21. They’ll play three games in Toronto against the Wizards, Bulls, and Pelicans, then head on the road once again.

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Raptors Look to End West Coast Road Trip on a High Note

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Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors (4-3) return to the court on Friday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz (5-3) for the sixth and final game of their Western Conference road trip. With a win, Toronto can finish its road trip with an even .500 record (3-3).

After an embarrassing and uncharacteristic performance against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Raptors will need to have a bounce-back game on both ends to pull out a victory in Utah, especially with how the Jazz have started the season at home. They enter the game with a perfect 5-0 home record and boast one of the league's strongest defences anchored by Rudy Gobert.

It will be interesting to see how DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry respond after mediocre performances in Denver. DeRozan, in particular, tends to have big games after lacklustre offensive performances. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, the USC product has only scored less than 20 points in consecutive games twice (excluding the postseason). That's further proof of how consistent DeRozan's been as a volume scorer in recent seasons. If you had to bet on it, expect a strong showing from the Raptors star.

For the most part, Lowry hasn't been playing like himself this season. He hasn't reached the twenty point plateau yet through seven games and has struggled with his shooting stroke. If you know Lowry well, you also know it's only a matter of time before the three-time all-star has a breakout game. That type of outing would be welcomed with open arms, especially against a strong defensive team like the Jazz.

Speaking of the Jazz, they're still adapting to life without Gordon Hayward. Since arriving in Utah, point guard Ricky Rubio has averaged a career-high 17.5 points per game, while showing off his newfound touch from long-range (37 percent on three-pointers). Couple Rubio's offensive resurgence with the "Stifle Tower" occupying the paint and the Jazz are once again proving to be a very challenging team to play, even without Hayward.

Here are the projected starting lineups ahead of Friday's 9 PM ET tip-off:

TORONTO RAPTORS

  • PG Kyle Lowry
  • SG DeMar DeRozan
  • SF Norman Powell
  • PF Serge Ibaka
  • C Jonas Valanciunas 

UTAH JAZZ

  • PG Ricky Rubio
  • SG Donovan Mitchell
  • SF Joe Ingles
  • PF Derrick Favors
  • C Rudy Gobert

Raptors' offence falls flat against the Nuggets

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Josh Weinstein

The Toronto Raptors visit to the Mile High City proved unfruitful, as the Denver Nuggets handed the team its first double-digit loss of the early season. The final score of 129-111 made the game seem even closer than it was. At one point in the third quarter, the Raptors trailed by a whopping 36 points.

After an impressive defensive performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, the Raptors allowed Denver to climb out to a 34-19 lead after the first. Things didn’t get much better as the game progressed. The Nuggets finished the night knocking down 53.4 percent of their field goals, and 50 percent of their shots from long-range. Allowing a team to shoot that efficiently is quite the recipe for disaster.

Norman Powell led the Raptors with 14 points on an efficient 6 of 11 field goals. Other than Powell, there really weren’t any major bright spots for Toronto.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry finished with a combined 19 points on 40 percent shooting. Whenever the Raptors all-star backcourt underperforms with lacklustre scoring totals like they did in Denver, the team really has that much slimmer chance of leaving the court with a win. Both DeRozan and Lowry are such focal points of the Raptors offence, meaning that when they struggle, the team follows suit.

On the flipside, there were a few positive takeaways despite the loss.

Alfonzo McKinnie checked in with the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter and didn’t disappoint in his eight minutes of court time. The former G-League standout finished with 9 points and one three-pointer on a perfect 3 for 3 shooting night. McKinnie’s poise is a welcome sight that the Raptors made the right choice in signing the 25-year-old to a multi-year deal.

Delon Wright, one of the biggest standouts for the Raps this season, continued his steady play, with 12 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes. Casey’s trust in Wright continues to grow with each passing game.

Jonas Valanciunas was effective in limited minutes, scoring 8 points and hauling in 5 rebounds. Serge Ibaka also returned to the starting five. He finished with 11 points.

Jamal Murray led Denver with 24 points. Nikola Jokic added 8 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists in the winning effort.

Next up, the Raptors look to bounce back Friday night in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz. Tip-off is set for 9 Eastern.