Hoping to bounce back after a really ugly loss against the Houston Rockets just two nights ago, the Toronto Raptors (37-18) will do battle with the depleted New Orleans Pelicans (28-27). Sounds familiar, right? That’s because it is. Back in January when Toronto and New Orleans met to play, the Raptors were coming off an embarrassing 110-89 loss at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks two days prior. Like they will in tonight’s game, the Pelicans took the court with a depleted roster. Seeing as the January 18th duel resulted in a 95-93 loss for the Raptors, they should be looking for revenge in tonight’s matchup – which just happens to be eerily similar to the previous meeting. Anthony Davis (shoulder), Ryan Anderson (MCL), and Jrue Holiday (leg) will all be sitting out with injuries tonight. On the other side of the coin, Lou Williams – aka “6 Man”, according to the 6 God – should be returning from his one-game absence (due to an ankle injury). Great news for the Raps, but even with all that being said, we know all too well that we shouldn’t expect this one to be a walk in the park.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
Nothing Easy for Evans
Tyreke Evans was huge in previous game between these two teams. Not only did he fill the void left by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, but he led his team to victory on a game winning runner in the last moments of the final frame. Aside from his move back to the point guard position and increased ball handling responsibilities, part of the reason why Evans was able to come away with 26 points was the soft interior defense that the Raptors played with. Evans was simply given too many opportunities to score in the lane. He’s no easy matchup by any means, but still— the effort level and communication of the Raptors defense left much to be desired. Tonight, emphasis must be placed on ensuring that the Pelicans lead guard cannot penetrate the paint so easily. Help defense in the lane will be integral to Toronto’s success in this one. It won’t be a one man effort by Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, or Greivis Vasquez. It’ll be a team effort to limit the good looks that Evans comes away with.
In today’s edition of “former Raptors holding a grudge”, we have Alexis Ajinça— who had one of the best games of his career in the previous meeting (22 points on 10 for 13 shooting). If you were to tell me a month and a half ago that Toronto’s defense on Ajinça would have a significant impact on the result of this game, I probably would’ve laughed, but here we are. No rocket science needed for this point of emphasis. The plan should be quite simple— don’t allow Ajinça to establish good post position, and be sure to box out. No bunnies tonight. Please.
With all the giveaways we witnessed on Saturday night, one can argue that the Raptors gave Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres a serious run for their money on in Houston. Seriously. The 23 turnovers were not only horrendous, but borderline generous. The performance versus the Rockets was obviously more outlier than norm, so expect Toronto to clean things up tonight. The four game win streak prior to the Houston game two nights showed what the Raptors can do when they put their minds to it. The Pelicans are not among the league’s defensive elite – especially without Anthony Davis in the lineup – so the defensive challenges they present to the Raps shouldn’t be impossible to get around. Let’s see how Toronto executes.
X-Factor: Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry was in everything but KLOE mode during Toronto’s last outing. The All-Star guard will need to get back to his ways sooner than later. Tonight’s battle with New Orleans could be the bounce-back that Lowry needs. Without him, this team can’t be successful. Another 2 for 13, seven turnover night won’t be acceptable.