“It felt normal to me . . . Basketball is two hoops, two teams trying to win.”
That’s how Kawhi Leonard, consummate literalist, described his return to San Antonio last month, a statement that tracks with the way he spoke on the day, looked on the night and, well, how he behaved in the 7 and a half years leading up to it.
There’s objective and subjective meaning to everything in sports, and the latter will vary intensely again going into tonight’s rematch between the Spurs and Raptors. Expect the animus that the AT&T Center crowd exhibited in January to be replaced with warmer emotions for the returning DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, both playing in Toronto for the first time since the Leonard trade. Neither will likely be as sober about the experience as Leonard was — especially DeRozan, who’s made his feelings known on the subject of being moved to San Antonio and whose response to the weight of it all will be one of the main storylines to follow.
The objective value of tonight’s win is more obvious: the Spurs’ playoff destiny will likely be determined by the slimmest of margins, and it’ll help if they can steal a game or two as a road underdog such as this one. Basketball is just two hoops and a ball, after all, but there may not be tougher challenges to get the W than on the home floor of one of the NBA’s best.
San Antonio Spurs (33-26) at Toronto Raptors (43-16)
February 22, 2019 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: ESPN | Listen: WOAI
Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (torn ACL — out), Derrick White (heel — probable), LaMarcus Aldridge (illness — probable)
Raptors Injuries: Fred VanVleet (thumb — out)
What does rest + hype + emotion = for DeMar’s slump?
Unlike the man he was traded for, DeRozan hardly plays his cards close to his vest. He commits frustration fouls, gets T’ed up, he speaks his mind afterward, and is quite visibly the beneficiary and victim of the emotionality he brings to the court every night. Will the energy in the arena lead to a repeat of his January 3rd performance (in which he put together his first career triple double), or will he press too hard and overthink things? We’ll see.
Will the Spurs have a full squad?
Derrick White is on the cusp of returning from a heel injury that sidelined him through the start of the Rodeo Road Trip, while LaMarcus Aldridge (illness) joined him on Thursday’s injury report.
Aldridge’s value goes without saying. An off night for him would mean major minutes for Poeltl and Gasol to go against a versatile Raptors frontcourt that can spread the floor and push the pace when desired. White meanwhile was the primary defender on Leonard for most of the first meeting and leaves a massive void in the team’s perimeter defense when he’s out. If either is in street clothes, the game immediately feels like an uphill battle.
A look at the new-look Raps
Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks and Patrick McCaw have all headed north of the border since these two teams last met. Gasol is obviously the big difference-maker, giving Toronto a threat in the high post and more size to throw Aldridge’s way instead of the smaller Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. Lin is an ideal backup point guard who’s soaking up the injured Fred VanVleet’s minutes and gives an already-talented roster some depth in the backcourt.
Vegas Line: Raptors by 10
Game Prediction: Raptors by 7
For the Raptors fan’s perspective, please check out Raptors HQ.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.