The Toronto Raptors hope to back get to full health after an injury crisis and will look for more success on the road in the new calendar year.
Coming into the new decade the Toronto Raptors are ailing and right in the middle of what is a competitive Eastern Conference. They managed to get through December despite having injuries the three of their top seven players. Now that it is the new year, the hope is that the Raptors can leave the injury bug back in 2019 and begin to get healthy for what is going to be an important month for the team.
January is what is the beginning of what many call the "dog days" of the NBA season. The excitement of the NBA season has faded away and the All-Star break is still far away. Teams start to lose focus (or motivation) during this stretch of the season, so it will be important for Nick Nurse to keep his team focused and ready to go every night. The Raptors should be looking forward to this time of the season, however.
It is expected that Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Marc Gasol should return from their injuries at some point in the month. All three of them have been out since the middle of December and the prospect of them returning has to have the team excited. The Raptors haven't been fully healthy in a while and if these three players return January can be a month where the team finds their groove again and can stack some wins.
New year, restored health
It is obvious that Toronto is looking to find sustained health in the month of January. As mentioned before, they have had to endure injury after injury to key pieces on their team. It is hard to remember when the Raptors had a completely healthy roster this season. They have managed to persevere, but they are hoping that everyone gets healthy and make their way back to the court this month.
Pascal Siakam has been out since December 18 with a groin injury. He injured his groin against the Detroit Pistons and there is no information on when he will make his return. Siakam is an important piece for Toronto in both the short and long-term but his offensive production and defensive abilities are sorely missed. Hopefully, he can make his return by the time Martin Luther King Jr. Day rolls around or even earlier.
Siakam's return should help ease some of the offensive pressure off Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. They have done a nice job picking up the slack, but Siakam's inside presence will make both of their lives easier when it comes to open shots on the perimeter. OG Anunoby is also playing somewhat out-of-place, getting some run at the power forward spot in Siakam's absence. When Siakam comes back into the lineup, it should help everyone in the frontcourt get back to playing the position they are most comfortable at.
It will take time for Siakam to get back into the swing of things after missing so much time. Even though he will surely have some rust when he returns, just having the extra body available will help Toronto as they lack bodies and depth in their lineup.
Marc Gasol has been out with a strained hamstring and the hope that he comes back sometime in January. Gasol is an older player so it is assumed that the training staff of the Raptors will play on the side of caution when it comes to bringing Gasol back. Gasol has been the defensive anchor when in the lineup and his return will definitely give Toronto a boost in that aspect. The Raptors only have Chris Boucher and Serge Ibaka as their healthy bigs, so getting Gasol back will add some depth down low also.
Norman Powell seems to be the closest out of these three players to return from injury. Powell is healing from a shoulder injury he suffered against the Pistons also. He traveled with the team when they played the Boston Celtics on December 28.
Nick Nurse said he is further along in his rehab compared to Siakam or Gasol but still wouldn't disclose when he would return. Powell is one of the best scorers for the Raptors, averaging 14.4 points per game. His ability to be inserted in the starting lineup or provide a spark off the bench will be useful for Toronto when he comes back.
Here are some other players that the Raptors look to get back from injury
- Matt Thomas - The three-point shooter off the bench hasn't played since fracturing his finger back in November. Per Nick Nurse, he has progressed through his rehab but has not been cleared for contact drills yet. Hopefully, he returns to the rotation soon to provide some needed shooting from the bench.
- Dewan Hernandez - The rookie big man is dealing with an ankle sprain. He was seen in a walking boot and hasn't traveled with the team. He has played with the Raptors 905 and the Raptors so it will be interesting to see where he goes once healthy.
One of the Raptors' new years resolutions should definitely be staying healthy. If they can get these pieces back and stay healthy, they can become a dangerous team. Even though January isn't the most exciting month of the NBA season, it should be exciting for the Raptors and their fans. If they can regain the chemistry and synergy they had at the beginning of the season, it could result in them rising up the ranks in the Eastern Conference.
On the road
What might make January somewhat of a challenge for the Toronto Raptors is the number of road games they have. They have a total of ten games on the road in January. Toronto has a record of 9-6 on the road this season which is a big difference from their 13-5 record at home. This month will be a good test for the team and their ability to win games away from home.
They start January with an important road game against the Miami Heat. The Heat have been one of the best teams in the NBA playing at home. They have a record of 15-1 at home this season and seem to play considerably better at home. Toronto owes them a home loss since the Heat gave them their first home loss of the season the last time they played each other.
This game is also important when it comes to the Eastern Conference standings. Miami has a 2.5 game lead on Toronto and a win against them will even the season series at one apiece and help the Raptors close the gap between them.
Other notable road games include the Raptors traveling to face the San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors will have two consecutive road games on four different occasions this month. It will be important for the team to get the necessary rest when they can as road games can take more energy out of players due to the travel times.
The Raptors have been just ok on the road and the month of January will surely test them in that area. It will be important for Toronto to stack some road wins, as championship teams usually perform above average on the road. With more games on the road than at home, Toronto will have to find a way to get wins away from Scotiabank Arena. If they can improve as a road team, it will help them in terms of confidence.
The Toronto Raptors will look to get the new decade off to a good start and survive the dog days of the NBA season. The expected returns of Siakam, Powell, and Gasol during the month should provide some excitement for the team. Their returns will allow the team to have depth and get back into the groove they had in late October-early November. With how the reserves have played throughout the plethora of injuries Toronto has dealt with, getting everyone back healthy will result in the team having a scary rotation. Let's hope the team can stay healthy for the rest of the season.
January will also test the Raptors in regards to winning on the road. They will need to get some big wins on the road if they want to stay in the mix in the Eastern Conference. Having Pascal Siakam would surely help their chances, but they must find a way to grind out some road victories without him until he is cleared to return. January is going to be a month the Raptors use to get healthy and show that they are just as good on the road as they are at home.