Apologies that the preview is a little bit late, but something kind of important got in the way last night and the resultant celebration led to a bit of a late start this morning. Ubaldo Jimenez, man. With Zach Britton sitting right there. Imagine running a game-winning after-timeout play for Dahntay Jones while LeBron James spots up in the corner. Buck, your bullpen management, woof. Anyway, let’s keep that positive Toronto sports momentum going with a BIG PRESEASON WIN BAY-BAY.
You know, or not. The outcomes don’t matter much. Just keep showing progress and we’re cool, Raptors. They draw the Clippers in L.A., by the way, and it could be a thinned-out Clippers crew – they played last night, too, and it’s unlikely they’ll roll with their primary guys for heavy minutes two nights in a row to begin the preseason. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Wesley Johnson all played 18 minutes or more, so look for those guys to have a light evening of action.
The Raptors, meanwhile, may opt to give a night off or two since this is their third game in five days. At the same time, they’re off for over a week after this one, so there may not be a need. I’d expect DeMarre Carroll and Jared Sullinger to draw back in, and I could see Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan getting the night off (though DeRozan may want to play in front of his home crowd). We’ll update you, as usual, during the pre-game news and notes later on.
The game tips off at 10:30 p.m (Eastern). on TSN 1/4.
To help set the stage, I reached out to noted Drake enthusiast and ESPN NBA editor Jovan Buha.
Blake Murphy: Let’s start by getting this out of the way: Blake Griffin is no longer allowed at Sotto Sotto, right?
Jovan Buha: I assume so. He should probably stay back when the Clippers make the trip up to the 6ix on Feb. 6.
Blake Murphy: The Clippers mostly rolled the same crew over to this season, except for a few additions around the periphery. Was that the right call, given how good this core has been the last few years, and the absence of any obvious major addition to make?
Jovan Buha: Yes, I believe it was the right call. What was the alternative? Tanking? Blowing things and up rebuilding around DeAndre Jordan? If there’s a franchise that deserves years of playoff success and good basketball — even if it doesn’t culminate with a championship — it’s the Clippers. Those fans have been tortured for 30-plus years of terrible basketball. They deserve to be relevant for a while.
The Clippers remind me — and other optimists — of the early-to-mid-2000s Mavericks. Those teams always had home-court and were in the mix as one of the top two or three or four teams in the West every year, yet they constantly underachieved in the postseason. Dirk Nowitzki was labeled as soft and unclutch, and the Mavs were written off despite despite their regular-season success. Then, of course, the Mavs randomly broke through and won it all in 2011, as the West had somewhat of a down year.
I could see the Clippers taking a similar path to a title or deep playoff run. Since Chris Paul came to Los Angeles, they’ve won the third-most games in the West (behind the Spurs and Thunder). They’ve advanced past the first round three of their five years together (and would have last season if not for untimely injuries to Griffin and Paul). This team is right there, and with a little injury luck, they could eventually make the Finals at some point over the next three or four years. And once they’re there, who knows.
Blake Murphy: On a similar note, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone are a pair of popular draft picks (I really liked Stone in the second round), and Xavier Munford is a pretty savvy pickup, even if he doesn’t fit an immediate need. Has Doc Rivers finally figured out how to use these end-of-bench roster spots, or do these just amount to camp bodies that will make way for veterans or open roster spots on Oct. 26?
Jovan Buha: I’ve been as critical as almost anyone of Doc’s previous moves, but I think he’s gradually become a better president, and actually had a solid offseason this summer.
Raymond Felton is a decent upgrade over Pablo Prigioni. The Clippers will miss Cole Aldrich, but Brandon Bass and Mo Speights collectively bring better shooting and a bit more of defensively versatility, forming the team’s deepest frontcourt rotation in years. Alan Anderson as your sixth wing is a steal (if healthy, of course). Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone have the potential to become rotation-level bigs.
I didn’t love the contracts for Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, and the team still has arguably the worst small-forward crop among playoff teams, but Doc didn’t make any egregious mistakes this offseason, which is the first time I could write that sentence since he’s been in charge.
Blake Murphy: Are the Clippers the second best team in the West? Given the gap between the Warriors and everyone else, should we feel a sort of kinship as “very good teams in their conference with an annoyingly heavy favorite ahead of them?
Jovan Buha: I’m likely biased, but I think so. The Spurs lost a lot of interior depth (Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, Boban Marjanovic), Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are fading, and Pau Gasol isn’t the cleanest fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge. The Jazz, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Timberwolves and Rockets are still a player or two away from being on the Clippers’ level.
But, as you mentioned, it doesn’t matter, because the Warriors are clearly the better team. The Clippers may actually be deeper overall, but when comparing their top eight guys, the Warriors have better and more well-rounded talent by a solid margin. It’s similar to the dynamic between the Cavs and your Raptors (with the Celtics serving as the Spurs in this example). So, yes, we’re both aboard the same expensive, glitzy yacht that might be going nowhere (but is still fun to be a part of!).
Blake Murphy: I hate to do this, but our readers would probably riot if I didn’t at least bring it up quickly: What are the chances Blake Griffin hits the trade market this year, and is there any package you could see from Toronto being enough? (Just ignore that Boston could probably trump anything, though my instinct is it won’t change your analysis much given how ill-fitting the pieces might be in a Raptors-Clippers deal.)
Jovan Buha: Doc has refuted every Griffin trade rumor, and I believe it. What’s the point in trading him now? This is the lowest his trade value has probably been since he’s entered the league, and most of the rumored trade packages are disrespectful. Griffin is worth far more than Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and a first-round draft pick. Griffin is a top-10 player in his prime, a legitimate franchise cornerstone, and those type of players don’t pop up on the trade market that often — see the haul for guys like Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and adjust it to the current market.
That being said, I don’t see a clean fit with the Raptors, unless they’re willing to trade DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll (and, even then, I don’t necessarily think that helps both teams). Who else could they trade? Kyle Lowry couldn’t play next to Chris Paul, and Jonas Valanciunas would fit awkwardly with DeAndre Jordan. Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell and/or Jared Sullinger are nice role players, and maybe they could be incorporated as well, but to me, there isn’t really a trade package that makes sense for both sides.
As mentioned, Carroll and Sullinger sat on Monday. Sullinger is dealing with a sore foot but is expected to be back Wednesday, and Carroll was just getting a night off for rest. Again, you could definitely justify a couple nights off here, but there’s a bunch of time off coming up if not.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet,
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford, Brady Heslip
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam, Jarrod Uthoff
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira
For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:
Known commodities: Lowry 38, DeRozan 37, Patterson 37, Valanciunas 34, Joseph 34, Carroll 19
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23
Competition 1: Siakam 43, Poeltl 26, Nogueira 26
Competition 2: Powell 39, Ross 35
Competition 3: Crawford 36, VanVleet 26, Singler 6, Heslip/Uthoff/Moreira 0
Other: Caboclo 21, Wright 0
I’m not sure if we can glean a whole lot from L.A.’s rotation on Tuesday, and the back-to-back could throw a wrench into things. Here’s roughly how things look ahead of the season:
PG: Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, Xavier Munford
SG: J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson, Paul Pierce
PF: Blake Griffin, Brandon Bass, Dorell Wright, Brice Johnson
C: DeAndre Jordan, Mo Speights, Diamond Stone
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game that involves a back-to-back is off the board. Raptors by 150.