Toronto Raptors Roundup: Should We Be Concerned With the Leonard Rest Schedule?

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Toronto Raptors Roundup is a weekly segment where we fill you in on all the games, highlights and stories from last week. Here’s what you missed from the fifteenth week of the season.

The Toronto Raptors went 2-2 this week, losing a couple of tough ones to Indiana and Houston, falling behind by double digits in both losses and not having the man power nor the energy to claw all the way back. A convincing win against the Sacramento Kings and a good fight against the Dallas Mavericks helped the Raptors to finish the week with a 37-15 record.

The Raptors played two of four games this week without star forward Kawhi Leonard, as he continues his rest schedule. Both the Raptors and Leonard have assured inquiring minds that there is no injury and that this was done strictly for load management reasons. The hopes are clearly that this rest stretch in January will pay off in the spring.

In total, Leonard has missed 14 games so far this year, with the Raptors going 11-3. As the rest schedule hasn’t hamstrung the Raptors too much, fans are most likely supportive of the organization’s strategy for the all-star. The rest schedule, being directed in concert by Leonard, the front office and a world-class physiotherapist in Alex McKechnie, enhances both the Raptor’s chances at finding success in the playoffs as well as re-signing Leonard.

However, on court chemistry problems between Lowry and Leonard are beginning to show and time may be beginning to run out with only 32 games remaining. Whether Lowry and Leonard can figure out how to co-exist in time for the playoffs remains to be seen, though their play against Dallas game was encouraging. Lowry cannot continue to play without his trademark aggressiveness and his pit bull demeanour as he has often been when Kawhi is on the floor.

Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard was voted in as a starter for the All Star Game, which will take place the weekend of February 15-17 in Charlotte. For now, Raptor fans are hoping for at least one more Raptor to join Kawhi, with Lowry being the most likely contender, but with Pascal Siakam having an outside chance of being a participant.

Game Recap:

Sacramento at Toronto

The Sacramento Kings came to town without the services of De’Aaron Fox and they clearly missed the dynamic guard. The Raptors took advantage of his absence and proved to be too deep and too good, decidedly brushing aside the Kings in a 120-105 victory.

Kawhi Leonard sat out for the third straight game (load management) but the Raptors have managed to succeed in his absence winning every game in that stretch. Six Raptors scored in double figures including Lowry and VanVleet, who had 19 points apiece, combining for 16 assists.

Toronto at Indiana

Sometimes the game can be very simple and can be reduced to a simple equation:

Sluggish start + Offense not clicking + Bench non-existent = 12 point deficit.

In the second half, the Raptors fought back, beginning the half with a 10-3 run.  Kyle Lowry proved to be more efficient and the bench (somewhat) came back to life, giving Raptors fans hopes that a comeback was possible. However, the Pacers did not quit, despite the devastating injury to Victor Oladipo, and managed to hold on for the win.

The Raptors looked tired and shorthanded (Leonard missed his fourth straight game) and were facing a tough team that, up until the Oladipo injury, were right there with Toronto, Milwaukee and Boston as teams who might challenge to come out of the East.

Toronto at Houston

The Raptors came out absolutely flat against scoring machine James Harden and the rest of the Houston Rockets. They trailed the entire game, eventually dropping a tough one 121-119 on the road. But despite the poor start, the Raptors somehow managed to fight back from eleven points down with less than two minutes left. Consecutive threes by Leonard, Green and Siakam brought the Raptors to within a single possession, but an awkward, if not, poorly executed final shot at the buzzer by Kawhi missed, costing the Raps a chance at a win or at least take the game to overtime.

The game plan from the start was clearly to stop Harden from dropping 40+ points and forcing other Rockets to have to beat the Raps. And considering what Harden has done of late, 30+ points in 21 straight games – with a scoring average of over 43 in that stretch, the plan made sense. And to be honest, the Raps didn’t do a bad job on Harden – an inefficient 35 points and only two made threes is something you can live with. The only problem was that the Raptors were stuck double-digits for most of the game and just ran out of clock and energy.

Toronto at Dallas

The second game back for Kawhi Leonard and he certainly looked to have his rhythm and timing back. Both he and Kyle Lowry started extremely strong, with 19 and 11 first half points respectively. The entire Raptors team seemed to feed off their energy as they ran the floor, played with pace and moved the ball well to find the open man. The Raps shot 45% from the field and 55% from deep in the first half. Combined with only two turnovers and solid bench production, it was easy to see how they were up 70-58 at halftime.

And in an cruel twist of fate, the NBA insisted Toronto play the second half, much to the surprise and chagrin of the Raptors.

The 12 point lead evaporated in the third as Toronto went cold and lifeless. Too many Mavs points in the paint and five turnovers led to a three-point Dallas lead after three quarters. But an impressive fourth quarter that included an effective zone defence and Lowry shutting down Doncic on key possessions allowed the Raptors to pull this one out 123-120.

The Week Ahead:

Milwaukee at Toronto

The Raptors have three days off before they play Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday at home. This will be the fourth time these two titans of the East face off with the Raps winning only one so far. As of Sunday, the Bucks owned the best record in the league (by percentage points) and have gone 8-1 in their past nine games.

Next. Trade value of every Toronto Raptor. dark

Los Angeles at Toronto

The Clippers come to town for a Sunday afternoon tilt to complete an unusual ‘two-game only’ week. After a great start, the Clippers have come back to earth and are only a few games over .500 sitting in the eighth spot in the Western division, being chased by another team from LA. Lou Williams recently scored his first triple-double last week against the Bulls and will be a threat against his former team.