Three Thoughts: Siakam v. Tatum, Raptors' offense, and playoff preview
The Toronto Raptors have defied the odds all season long and done exactly what so many people thought was impossible when Kawhi Leonard left for the Los Angeles Clippers last summer. At 48-18, they have a better win-loss percentage than last year with Leonard, despite having almost all their players miss significant time to injury.
Tonight, the Raptors will have an opportunity to clinch the Eastern Conference's second-best record and while this might seem meaningless inside the NBA's Walt Disney World Bubble, Raptors coach Nick Nurse thinks home-court advantage still matters.
"I'm not sure the home court thing won't be a little bit of an advantage, maybe," Nurse said Wednesday. "It seems like they're tweaking a little bit more and more as they go here in the games, as they're learning things about how to put the game on in this setting. We're seeing familiar faces on those screens, and who knows what it'll evolve to here two months from now. So I don't want to discount the home court thing quite yet."
The Raptors are 1-2 against the Celtics this season, albeit without Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol for two of those games.
Here are three things to look for tonight:
1: Siakam vs. Tatum
Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum are two of the NBA's most exciting young players. They've both had breakout years this season and their advanced stats look eerily similar.
The two have identical Net Ratings of +9.7, with Siakam a slightly better defensive player, according to Defensive Rating, and Tatum with a slightly better offensive player, according to Offensive Rating.
Things look a little different according to Arjun Balaraman, where Tatum is a better defensive player while Siakam is a superior offensive playmaker.
"We're gonna try to guard him hard," Nurse said of Tatum. "I don't know if there's anything other than that, at this point, we've got planned. We just hope we can try to contain him a little bit."
2: Raptors' offense vs. Celtics' defense
The Raptors didn't have too much trouble scoring on the NBA's second-ranked defense when they played the Los Angeles Lakers last week and Boston will present another opportunity for the Raptors to prove their early-season offensive trouble against top defenses was more due to injury than anything else.
The Celtics enter the game with the NBA's fourth-ranked defense. Coming into the game, the Raptors offense ranks 14th in the NBA, according to Cleaning the Glass, but 18th in the NBA against opponents with a top 10 defense.
While part of those struggles certainly has to do with the fact the Raptors were rarely fully healthy this year, there is some concern that the Raptors' don't really have a go-to scorer who can create in the half-court when things slow down. A healthy Gasol could certainly do a lot to freeing up the Raptors' half-court offense, but it will likely come down to Siakam and Kyle Lowry's ability to create when it matters.
3: Playoff Preview
Assuming the Raptors and Celtics finish second and third in the Eastern Conference — which seems highly likely at this point — the two teams will be on a collision course for in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. It's a series that has eluded basketball fans for years, but barring an upset it looks like it will happen this season.
On one hand, you might think the Raptors will want to try some things out against the Celtics to see how they work, but I would be surprised if Nurse shows his hand during this relatively meaningless seeding game. Instead, I wouldn't expect the Raptors to show anything new and try to save a few tricks for when they'll be needed more.
One more thing: McCaw, Brissett update
Patrick McCaw left the NBA bubble to undergo a procedure to remove a mass in his left knee, according to the team. The surgery is expected to happen Monday, Nurse said.
Oshae Brissett has been cleared to play, according to Nurse, but he will not be active for tonight's game.