This January will be one of the Raptors‘ most important regular season months in the last decade, according to Eric Koreen of The Athletic, who writes that Toronto’s year could begin one of two ways — either the team starts playing better and begins to fulfill its promise, or its struggles continue and Masai Ujiri will have to seriously consider whether to break up the Raptors’ core.
The crucial month got off to a disappointing start on Monday as the Raptors lost 122-114 to the Pacers in Indiana, falling to 16-21 on the season. It’s the type of game Toronto will need to start winning more often than not, but Indiana looked like the deeper and better team on Monday, says Koreen.
The Raptors’ schedule leading up to the trade deadline is favorable, as Koreen writes, with 14 of 19 games against teams currently in either play-in or lottery position. They’ll also play their next six games at home, so if they’re going to make a move up the standings, it will probably need to start soon.
Here’s more out of Toronto:
- Big man Precious Achiuwa, who had been out since November 9 due to a right ankle injury, returned to the court on Monday and recorded three points and three blocked shots in 12 minutes. He admitted after the game that his conditioning could use some work, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. “I was so out of breath it was crazy,” Achiuwa said of his first four-minute stint. “I was so tired I couldn’t even drink water. It felt like I was going to pass out.” He added that he began to feel better during his later minutes.
- Asked today if Otto Porter Jr. is making progress in recovery from his foot injury, head coach Nick Nurse didn’t offer much reason for enthusiasm, tweets Lewenberg. “He’s not, he’s not,” Nurse said. As Lewenberg notes (via Twitter), the hope was that Porter, who saw a specialist for his dislocated toe in mid-December, would be able to avoid surgery and return in January, but his outlook is cloudier now.
- Prior to Monday’s loss to Indiana, Fred VanVleet said he welcomes a tough-love approach from Nurse and is prepared to dish out some of that tough love to his teammates too if need be. “What would you rather have? Somebody rubbing your shoulders and telling you everything’s going to be OK? No,” VanVleet said, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “We’ve got a standard around here that we try to play to, and it’s not even results-based. It’s based on performances, and the last couple performances where we just don’t show up to play, that’s unacceptable.”