In the game versus the Indiana Pacers last night, the start wasn’t exactly pretty, but the finish was the closest we’ve seen to the early-season Toronto Raptors all January. This evening, the Raptors will look to hold on to the mojo that they’ve recently found – after a month-long search – as they host the Sacramento Kings. Though their 16-27 record doesn’t offer much intimidation and they haven’t tasted the postseason since the 2005-06 season, the Kings have consistently presented challenges for the Raptors in recent years. In the previous duel between these two teams back in December, although DeMarcus Cousins sat out, the 117-109 win wasn’t easy to come by for Kyle Lowry and the then DeMar DeRozan-less Raptors. Considering the fact that Cousins is back and the Kings have been waiting in Toronto, while the Raptors are returning home for a game less than 24 hours after winning in Indy, snagging win #31 tonight won’t be a walk in the park. Other things worth noting: Rudy Gay is back in town, and the Mississauga-born guard Nik Stauskas will be making his first NBA appearance in the T-Dot. Here we go.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
DeMarcus Cousins has been a notorious Raptor killer throughout the span of his career. There’s no doubting that. In his seven games played versus Toronto, Boogie has averaged 22.9 points and 11.9 rebounds. He hasn’t had much trouble dominating the game versus the Raptors frontline in these matchups. Why? His post skill set is among the best that the league has to offer, and his rebounding effort has consistently been at a higher level than his Toronto opposition in these battle. In order to contain Cousins tonight, the Raptors will need to show up from start to finish with a strong attention to detail when it comes team defensive execution on the inside. If the matchup at the center position proves to present a problem early on, double teams will be integral, as they will attempt to limit Cousins’ offensive production, thus forcing Sacramento to find scoring through other means. It is no coincidence that the Kings only take 15.7 three point looks per game (good for 29th in the Association)— it simply isn’t their specialty. The plan here is simple: stop Cousins from having a monster night and force someone else to do the work from the outside.
Second Unit Execution
Toronto’s bench was remarkable last night versus Indiana. Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross were all able to provide offensive contributions as well as some intensity on the defensive end. For a victory tonight, the same effort will be needed. Lost in the recent stretch of solid defensive play has been the performance of the Raptors rotational players. Sure, the competition hasn’t been the greatest in the past week, but still— credit is due. Solid play is solid play, no matter how you spin it. Versus a talented Kings team, you can’t just rely on the starting five. It’ll be up to the bench guys to keep the intensity up.
As things slowly but surely creep in the right direction for the Raptors, turnovers are still a cause for concern. Everybody knows that simply looking at your record and comparing it to that of your opposition doesn’t work in this league. That’s why the teams over .500 in this league are at times subject to “trap” games. When complacency is illustrated in on-court performance for a long enough time, winning doesn’t tend to occur. The execution on offense needs to return to its early-season form if the Raptors plan on continuing this recent surge. The plan should be to take care of the rock, run the proper sets, and focus more on precision than flash.
X-Factor: Amir Johnson
We’re not banking on Amir Johnson having a huge scoring night or anything, we’re just hoping his defensive presence in the post is enough to leave a positive imprint on the game for the home team. Seeing as the guy leaves his heart and soul on the court every night, we know the effort will be there. Fingers crossed that it translates to another victory.