Following a crushing overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Toronto Raptors look to reverse their fortunes Tuesday night (10 p.m. EST) against former teammate Rudy Gay and the Sacramento Kings. For those who have been living under a rock for the past year, Toronto (13-4) parted with their All-Star wing last December in a seven-player deal – exchanging Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. Critics pointed to how the trade was a sign of the Raptors maneuvering for a lottery pick, but the trade aided both franchises. Toronto strengthened their bench and chemistry which catapulted them to a playoff berth while Sacramento (9-8) attained the high-volume scoring forward they desperately sought.
This could be an opportunity for Gay to have what Bill Simmons refers to as an eff you game. I’m sure there are no hard feelings between Gay and GM Masai Ujiri, but players love to showcase their talents and heart against their former squads. The timing is perfect since the Raptors have been a different team as of late due to the loss of DeMar DeRozan who is out indefinitely with a torn tendon. They have now lost two games in a row for the first time since…March 16th and 18th of 2014. Let’s hope the losing trend halts.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Is DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins an MVP candidate? Yes, he is. Although these annual rewards tend to factor team success, it’s hard to ignore Cousins overwhelming personal contributions. The 24-year-old is averaging 23.5 points a game (7th overall), a league-leading 12.6 rebounds, 1.53 blocks (15th overall) and sports an exceptional 28.03 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Jonas Valanciunas struggles to defend against mobile bigs, especially those who have face to the basket games and can create their own shot. A double-team is obligatory for a talent like Cousins.
The Raptors have allowed opponents to score 108.6 ppg in their past five contests. As a whole, Toronto is an average defensive team with 98.9 points allowed (14th overall). However, one of the cornerstones of last year’s success was the stingy team defense. Offense can only win you so many games consistently; the defense needs to tighten up against a Kings squad that can score with the best of them.
We know Sacramento and their forwards can score but they are also tenacious on the glass. Cousins, Gay and Jason Thompson are a big reason why the Kings rank near the top in rebounding with 45.7 per game, good for a differential of +8.4. Toronto was inexcusably outrebounded by the Lakers (54-53) and need to be more assertive against Sacramento.
X-Factor: Amir Johnson
Johnson had a big outing against the Mavericks with 20 points, nine rebounds and a block but was relatively quiet against the Lakers. Tall Money is arguably Toronto’s best perimeter and post defender and needs to shine against Sacramento’s talented frontcourt. The scoring opportunities will naturally increase in light of DeRozan’s absence so expect the California native to post a near double-double.