Fresh off a hard-fought (albeit ugly) win versus the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night, the Toronto Raptors will continue their mini three game road trip versus the Memphis Grizzlies this evening. The Raptors (27-14) – who are off to their best 41 game start in franchise history – will be looking to begin the second half of the regular season on a high note, while the Grizzlies (29-12) will attempt to stay among the elite in the unforgiving Western Conference. It’s safe to say that this one won’t come easy for the Atlantic Division leading Raptors, who haven’t exactly been themselves since 2015 began. When these teams met earlier this season, Toronto came away with a 96-92 win. However, in that earlier meeting, some of Memphis’ key players sat out due to a stomach bug. This time around, with a healthy roster, the opposition will be sure to present the the Raps with a tougher challenge. Following a narrow victory versus weaker competition in their last outing, it’ll be interesting to see how the Raptors respond versus this championship contender.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Defend the Paint
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph make up arguably the best big man tandem that the league has to offer. This, coupled with the fact that the Grizzlies take less outside shots than the vast majority of the teams in the NBA means that the Raptors will win or lose this game based on how they are able to limit opportunities in the painted area. With the Memphis bigs being such a handful, Toronto will need to place emphasis on help defense in the lane. Otherwise, this one could be painful to watch. If it means sacrificing bunnies at the rim for the sake of semi-contested mid/long range jumpers, so be it. Tyler Hansbrough, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas will be responsible for many of the post-area switches and double-teams, so keep an eye on their movement on the defensive end.
Half-court offense requires sound play calling and execution based on what the defense offers. At times this season, the Raptors have proven to have some trouble creating solid scoring opportunities in these scenarios. Hero-ball probably won’t work in most cases versus this experienced Grizzlies squad. Influencing the pace of the game could be a solid idea though. In a matchup where points will not be easy to come by, the Raptors should look to create transition opportunities when they present themselves. Getting some easy fast break buckets whenever there’s a chance to do so will undoubtedly help the cause versus a Memphis team with solid defenders at each of the five positions. The decision-making of the Raptors guards will be tested here— based on fast break numbers, it’ll be up to them to figure out which moments are/aren’t good times to push the ball up the floor.
Of course, transition opportunities cannot be created unless the defense gets some live ball stops. Memphis’ imposing rebounders will almost always be a threat to garner second chance points. In order to minimize the damage when it comes to this aspect of the game, box-outs will be of the utmost importance. Toronto will have to ensure they the Grizzlies aren’t able to come down with the 50-50 balls that are tipped in the air several times after missed attempts. A gang rebounding effort will be required if the goal is stop Memphis’ frontcourt players from having 10+ rebound outings.
X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
Coming off yet another game in which he outperformed opposition early on – prior to getting benched for reasons that many Raptor fans cannot comprehend – Jonas Valanciunas will be face a tough task on both offense and defense, trying to outplay MVP candidate Marc Gasol. Valanciunas’ conditioning, coupled with Dwane Casey‘s decision to play/bench him, will be an integral factor influencing this game’s outcome.