It's do-or-die time for the Toronto Raptors or, in the words of Raptors coach Nick Nurse, it's Toronto's "last chance saloon."
As things sit Thursday morning, the situation is already very bleak for the Raptors. They sit three games back of the Washington Wizards for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament. Optimistically, Basketball-Reference gives them an 11.6% chance of making the tournament. Pessimistically, FiveThirtyEight has them at about 7%. Regardless of those numbers now, they'll drop pretty close to zero with a loss Thursday night to those Wizards.
"I think them getting that one against us would be awful tough for us to recover from," Nurse said Tuesday night. "We get it, it puts us in there legitimately."
Legitimately? I'm not sure that's quite the right word to use here. Toronto still has games against the L.A. Clippers, Mavericks, and Grizzlies, coming up on the schedule and with OG Anunoby's continued absence and Chris Boucher potentially done for the season, it's going to be tough for the Raptors to squeak in even if they can top the Wizards.
That shouldn't take away too much from the magnitude of Thursday's game. For a little peek behind the media curtain, Raptors PR has already sent out two post-game media availability Zoom links. It'll be the first time since the playoffs that there have been two different post-game Zoom calls.
"It's a big game. It's a big game. Might be one of our few big games with not one of the top teams," Fred VanVleet said Tuesday. "I know there's been a lot of talk of the play in and should it be there, should it not. But it's the situation we're in, and we've got to try to take advantage of every opportunity we have right now."
According to Vegas, the Raptors have a chance Thursday night thanks in part to the Wizards' 135-134 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last night. As of Thursday morning, Toronto is a one-point favourite, per Covers, and can even be found as high as 2.5-point favourites.
While Anunoby, Boucher, and Paul Watson Jr. all remain out, the Raptors are likely to have Gary Trent Jr. back in the lineup after his six-game absence due to a left leg contusion. If Trent returns and slides back into the starting lineup alongside Kyle Lowry, VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Khem Birch, it'll be Toronto's 33rd different starting lineup of the season.
The Wizards have yet to release an injury report.