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Clippers vs. Raptors Preview: Kawhi Leonard Returns to Toronto

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The Clippers play one of their biggest games tonight as Kawhi Leonard makes his glorious return to Toronto.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada

When: 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: ESPN, Watch ESPN, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyKawhi LeonardPaul GeorgeMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Raptors: Kyle LowryNorman PowellOG AnunobyPascal SiakamMarc Gasol

Injuries

Clippers: JaMychal Green Doubtful (Tailbone), Rodney McGruder Out (Hamstring), Landry Shamet Out (Ankle)

Raptors: Patrick McCaw Out (Knee), Stanley Johnson Out (Groin), Fred Van Vleet Questionable (Knee)

The Big Picture

The Clippers are 2-1 through the first half of their road trip, and have bounced back strong from their blowout loss at the hands of the Bucks with two nice victories against the Wizards and Pacers. Paul George has been smoking hot, eviscerating his former Pacers squad from beyond the arc while locking down defensively. The Clippers, bench, unfortunately, has not been so hot, with Lou Williams shooting 2-19 from the field against the Pacers and both Jerome Robinson and Terance Mann struggling from the field. Doc Rivers has turned to Derrick Walton Jr. in his hour of need, and the little-used reserve has responded with some solid minutes on both ends. The Clippers bench has been getting outplayed recently, even with Walton’s contributions, and that’s an unusual sight for Clippers fans after the past couple years. Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder can’t return soon enough.

The Antagonist

The Raptors had lost three games in a row before their narrow, ugly victory over the Bulls on Monday night, an unusual slump for a team that had been great all season. The Raptors are a terrific defensive team, bolstered by the size of length of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam on the perimeter and the tenacity of Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet at the point of attack. Their offense has congealed a little of late, but remains dangerous with Siakam taking a massive leap forward and Lowry still at the helms of the offense. Their bench, too, is dangerous, with seasoned veterans like Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson capable of impacting a game on both ends. Even with their recent slide, the Raptors are one of the better teams in the NBA and will surely be at their absolute best for Kawhi Leonard’s return.

Notes

Fun Guy Returns to Toronto: Return games are always fun, and this particular contest should be incredible. Kawhi Leonard, of course, in his lone season with the Raptors, led them to their first ever NBA Championship, winning Finals MVP along the way. He is a historic figure not just for the Raptors, but for Canadian sports, and even in just one season will go down in Canadian lore. Therefore, despite his leaving in free agency after that year, he should rightfully get a hero’s welcome tonight. It will be an emotional night for Kawhi, the Raptors, and the entire stadium as Kawhi gets his ring, and the stadium will likely be deafening. The Raptors already released their tribute video for Kawhi on their Twitter page, and it’s pretty incredible. This one should be fun.

Jerome Robinson, Slumping from Deep: The Clippers’ reserve guard has been pressed into heavier service with Rodney McGruder joining Landry Shamet on the bench, and has struggled, especially over the past few games. While he’s rebounded the ball well and continues to compete defensively, he’s shot under 25% from the floor in the last four games and has missed his last 10 threes. He simply can’t buy a bucket right now, and that’s not what the Clippers needed, especially with their bench so banged up. Robinson has held onto his minutes, even with the encroachment of Walton, but if he doesn’t pick things up, he’ll be on the bench soon.

Pat Beverley, Heating Up: While Shamet has slumped, Pat Beverley has surged, nailing nine of his last 17 threes while also contributing his usual mix of rebounds and defensive stats. That outside shooting is critical – Pat is going to be left open frequently when he’s alongside Paul George and Kawhi, and needs to both take and make open shots. Pat still doesn’t shoot quite enough, but at least he’s been making his shots lately, and that should suffice.

The Matchups: The Raptors might have more defenders to throw at Kawhi and George than any team in the league barring maybe the Celtics, Bucks, or Sixers – all title contenders. OG Anunoby, Siakam, and Hollis-Jefferson are all highly capable defensive players, and they should be draped all over Kawhi and PG. Now, those guys are good enough to score on anyone, but this game might be a little more difficult for them than usual. Because of that, the Clippers will need their other players to step up, especially Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. On the other end, Harkless will probably get the task of slowing down Siakam, while Beverley will take Lowry. Like the first Clippers-Raptors game, this could be a gritty, defense-heavy affair, and not much in the way of scoring.

Check back in for the game thread later tonight on what should hopefully be an exceptional game of basketball.