After a dramatic overtime victory over the Grizzlies, the Knicks have the chance to begin a winning streak against the Raptors.
The last time the Toronto Raptors (21-32) and New York Knicks (26-27) went at it on New Year’s Eve, the 100-83 loss against Toronto in Tampa made sense. Despite moving to 1-3 on the season, the Raptors were expected to compete for a playoff berth and make a decent run in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks, who fell to 2-3 that night, saw R.J. Barrett go 0-for-9 from the outside while Julius Randle finished with 16 points and looked largely ineffective against Toronto’s defense.
Is it safe to say things have changed a bit since then? Randle has evolved into an All-Star and the guiding light to New York’s offense. Toronto has been hot as of late, but thanks to the chance of making the play-in series, continue to teeter between the chance to have one last playoff series and a shot at Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham. Barrett is on fire now and is coming off a 20-point performance where he scored 15 points between the fourth quarter and overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies, further establishing himself as one of the best young wing players in the NBA.
PUT SOME GODDAMN RESPECT ON RJ BARRETT’S NAME pic.twitter.com/Db0CczQ1nO
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) April 10, 2021
So what are we expecting when the Raptors visit Madison Square Garden on Sunday?
This feels like a write-off year for Toronto. The Raptors have the makings of a fine team, 13th in offensive efficiency, via NBA Stats, but the defense tells the story, falling off to 19th overall. Playing games in Tampa hasn’t helped, but Kyle Lowry looked destined to be traded until he wasn’t; Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have yet to be replaced at the center position. Pascal Siakam, perceived to be the team’s star player, has been good but not great and has clashed with head coach Nick Nurse.
Toronto has several key pieces for next year, led by OG Anunoby, who continues to show progress with his off-the-dribble offense. Fred VanVleet is still there, making things a bit easier for whoever he shares the backcourt with, and new Raptor—and Knicks free-agent target—Gary Trent Jr. is a flamethrower from the outside. Add a focused Siakam, a seasoned Malachi Flynn, and their 2021 lottery pick, and the Raptors could quickly find themselves back among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Update: Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are out, while Pascal Siakam is coming off “DNP-Rest” the night before against Cleveland. Missing out on Lowry and VanVleet hurts, but that leaves more minutes for Flynn, who can still offer a solid two-way presence. Trent, coming off a 44-point night, is still a respected shooter who can stretch the floor for Toronto, while the trio of Siakam-Anunoby-Boucher will be test for New York’s interior defense.
What to watch for
Outside shooting: Toronto is third in the league in outside shooting with five players who can light it up. Lowry, Anunoby, and Chris Boucher are no slouches, but the likes of Trent Jr. and VanVleet are elite marksmen who can create trouble for New York’s defense. The ability to go to the bench and maintain that shooting level could bother New York as they go to their bench.
Toronto’s top defenders against New York’s offensive leaders: One thing about the last matchup between the Knicks and Raptors—Siakam didn’t play. With him in the lineup, the Raptors match up well with New York on defense, which could hurt the Knicks’ offense. Anunoby has the length and foot speed to defend Barrett, Siakam can stay in front of Randle, and VanVleet can hold Immanuel Quickley. If Nurse decides to match up that way, Toronto could stifle New York’s offense the same way it was on New Year’s Eve.
More playing time for Obi Toppin: Eight points and six rebounds aren’t life-changing, but it was a good game for 2020 no. 8 pick Obi Toppin. Against Memphis, Toppin did a good job finishing at the rim; he was good with screens and did a good job of remaining active on the defensive end. Against Boucher, Aron Baynes, and new Raptor Khem Birch, Toppin should get a bit more playing time to see if he can continue his success.
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET.