Gameday Q&A: Spurs vs. Raptors with Raptors Republic

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To help me preview tonight’s road game against the Toronto Raptors, I spoke with William Lou of Raptors Republic.

The Spurs have been inconsistent at best recently, blowing out the Nuggets, losing to one of the lesser teams in the league and just getting by Brooklyn. With Kawhi Leonard out, what are expecting to see out of the Spurs tonight?

I’m expecting a gritty defensive effort from the Spurs because regardless of their health, Gregg Popovich always puts out a disciplined defense. But without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, I just don’t know where their offense comes from. Pop might look to attack the offensive glass, which worked tremendously in the first match-up with Toronto, but otherwise, they’re somewhat toothless. LaMarcus Aldridge will be a load to handle and some of the 3-point specialists might get hot, but it’s not terribly difficult to stop the Spurs at the moment.

The Raptors have been able to put up a ton of points this season. Has that been because of the pace they play at or is there something else can you attribute to that statistic?

The Raptors score in bunches because they’re so adept at driving into the paint, collapsing the defense, and capitalizing on great finishers around the basket or kicking out to inconsistent shooters for three. Dwane Casey has designed simple but effective sets that have the Raptors’ slashers going downhill, and it’s just flat-out difficult to stop the likes of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and even Delon Wright. San Antonio’s best bet is to attack the Raptors at the point of attack, swarm the ball with long defenders, and force the secondary players to beat you.

DeMar DeRozan just got selected as a starter for a second consecutive all-star game, and rightfully so with the season he’s had. How important has he been for the Raptors, not only because of the scoring he provides but because he’s also been able to distribute with a career-high average in assists?

DeRozan has been tremendous. It’s always a tricky scenario when a superstar is asked to change his game (ex: the LMA situation) but DeRozan has taken all of it in stride and evolved into a better player. His distribution out of double teams has been stellar, and he would easily be averaging six assists if the Raptors weren’t bottom-five in 3-point percentage. DeRozan’s willingness to embrace an offense with more ball movement has empowered the team to change as a whole.

With Leonard out, I’m guessing Casey’s main focus will be LaMarcus Aldridge. What do you think the Raptors bigs will need to do to try to make him less effective and take away some of the newfound aggression we’re seeing in him?

They’ll try to stick Jonas Valanciunas on him early on and see if matching LMA with size works. The Raptors will live with that, provided that Valanciunas doesn’t get burned by an avalanche of mid-range jumpers. However, Casey has a notoriously quick hook with Valanciunas, so he might quickly change to secondary strategy with Serge Ibaka as the primary defender and with help coming from the wing. The Raptors love to create mismatches, then swarm with a double team against post-up players.

The Raptors have a pretty good home record, losing only three games at the Air Canada Centre? Do you think they’ll pick up their 17th win or 4th loss tonight?

It’s going to be close, but I think the Raptors come away with the win. They’re healthier now than they were in their first meeting in San Antonio, and there’s a palpable fortress feeling at the Air Canada Centre. Much like with the Spurs, it’s tough to beat a deep team with a great crowd.

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