Raptors tuning up for postseason as they visit Knicks
The Toronto Raptors are two weeks away from another postseason appearance and closing in on their fifth Atlantic Division title in six seasons.
In the meantime, the Raptors will continue preparing for postseason games by figuring out which potential lineups they might use and their preparation continues Thursday night with a visit to the league-worst New York Knicks.
Toronto (52-23) is likely locked into the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are four games behind Milwaukee for the top spot in the East and 4 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic.
Among the things first-year coach Nick Nurse is doing in preparation for the postseason is starting Marc Gasol at center. Gasol has started the last eight games and nine of the last 10 while Serge Ibaka has come off the bench.
Though Gasol finished with two points and six rebounds in Tuesday's 112-103 home win over the Chicago Bulls, he has four double-digit scoring games in his last seven contests. Gasol is averaging 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 19 games since being obtained from Memphis and his teammates are noticing how certain things improve with him on the floor.
"We're still feeling each other out but he's fit in very well," Raptors guard Danny Green told Sportsnet. "The ball movement starts with him. He's good at what he does. It's contagious."
On Tuesday, no starter played more than 21 minutes and Norman Powell scored 20 points while Ibaka added 16. For the Raptors, the ideal scenario on Thursday would be keeping starters Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Green to around 20 to 25 minutes.
"I think our starting five has a super-high IQ so that's the one thing that helps us and that's big," Lowry told reporters on the topic of incorporating Gasol into the starting five.
Knicks coach David Fizdale would like to be able to choose from a deep roster but injuries are piling up.
Point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has missed the last six games with a sore back, rookie guard Allonzo Trier has missed the last three games with a strained calf and forward Noah Vonleh has missed the last five games with a sprained right ankle.
Smith, Trier, and Vonleh may be out again Thursday and the trio could be joined on the sidelines by rookie forward Kevin Knox.
Knox sprained his right ankle with 32 seconds left in the first half of a 124-113 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. Knox was injured when his foot collided with Los Angeles guard Patrick Beverley's on a 3-point attempt.
Knox scored 11 points before getting hurt and was averaging 19.3 points in his previous four contests.
"He was playing really good basketball before he got hurt," Fizdale said. "That's probably the most frustrating part of the injury."
Knox may also be joined on the sidelines by second-year guard Frank Ntilikina, who reinjured his groin Sunday after returning from a 24-game absence due to the same injury Friday against Denver.
Regardless of who is available, the Knicks (14-60) will try to avoid matching the 2014-15 team for the worst record in team history. That record was the second-worst in the NBA and it resulted in Kristaps Porzingis being picked fourth overall by the Knicks.
This time, the Knicks are ahead of Phoenix in the "race" for the league's worst record. New York has lost four straight games and 12 of 13 since winning two straight over San Antonio and Orlando Feb. 24-26.
The Knicks must win four of their last eight games to avoid matching the worst record in team history. They secured their second 60-loss season in team history with Sunday's loss.
Toronto has won five straight from the Knicks and 16 of the last 19 meetings. The Raptors easily won the two meetings in Toronto and claimed a 104-99 win in New York on Feb. 9 when Lowry scored 22 points and Gasol played 19 minutes in his debut with the team.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 27, 2019