Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
With the Raptors soaring out of the gates with a franchise best 7-1 record to start the season, while being tied for first in the Eastern Conference with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto looks ahead to their 4-game western road trip this week starting tonight.
History would say that the Raptors usually struggle throughout these tough western road games, but all of that can be thrown out the window. This isn’t the same Raptors team we all know from previous years. Yes, there are returning pieces, but there are also new ones. Pieces that will help them overcome these tough games that are ahead. One major piece is Kawhi Leonard; the man who has played in the Western Conference his whole career. If anyone knows about the fast-paced star-studded talent in the west, it’s Kawhi.
With Toronto kicking off the road trip against the 1-6 Phoenix Suns - who are currently sitting at the bottom of the aforementioned Western Conference - it won’t be an easy win for Toronto to say the least. Over the past week, Toronto has been hit with the injury bug in both point guards Delon Wright and Fred Vanvleet. Wright has been battling a left thigh injury to begin the 2018-19 season, but finally looks like he is getting back to his old form. It just takes time. Fred Vanvleet has also felt the effects of the injury bug, battling a lingering left toe injury that could keep him out of Friday’s game vs the Suns as he is listed as questionable. OG Anunoby hasn’t been hit with any injury (which is great news), but has been on a personal leave from the team and has missed the previous three games. Yet, he plans to return to the lineup tonight. The Raptors will have 90 percent of their team back, excluding Fred Vanvleet, but that doesn’t mean tonight will be an easy win.
After game one of the road trip on Friday, Toronto hops on the plane for a short flight over to Los Angeles to square off against “The King” Lebron James and the Lakers. It’ll be Toronto’s first meeting against LeBron since the disappointing playoff series last season, which resulted in the Raptors getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. But this year is different. LeBron is out west, still trying to figure things out with his new team who currently sit at 3-5 on the season. But it’s early and things can change. LeBron has never been shy to having monster games against Toronto where he currently averages 27.6 points, seven rebounds and seven assists; nearly a triple-double. There’s no stopping The King. But one person who may be able to slow him down is Kawhi Leonard. This helps Toronto’s odds for a win on Sunday night when they face off against the Lakers at the Staples Center.
But that’s only half the road trip completed. Toronto will then have zero days rest after the battle with “The King” is over to then have a short (roughly two hour) flight over to Salt Lake City where they will play Utah on Monday in a back-to-back. Many signs point toward Kawhi not playing in that game due to it being a back-to-back. It was talked about yesterday during a shoot around that Toronto will continue to not overwork Leonard in back-to-backs and get him set for the game after with more rest than usual.
The Jazz, who sit at 4-3 on the season, have been a “sleeper” pick for many, saying that they could be a team that has a deep and surprising playoff run. The Jazz have no shortage of star power all throughout the roster, with All-Star rookie Donavan Mitchell, recent Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and sharp shooting veteran Joe Ingles. The one thing that lacks on this talented team’s roster is depth, which is something every team needs. But this does not give a reason to look past them.
48 hours later, after another short two-hour flight and a day off, the Raptors finally close out the grueling 4-game western road trip in Sacramento facing off against a tough Kings. They have surprisingly opened the season at 6-3. This is a game you can expect to see Kawhi Leonard make his way back into the lineup in what could be a high-scoring game. Both teams are scoring a high average of 116 points for per game. It will also still be uncertain if Vanvleet will be available around this time on Wednesday in Sacramento.
It’s a long and tiring road trip for players and the fans. Especially those on the east coast with all four games tipping off at least 9 p.m. Est or later:
11-02: 10 p.m. VS – Phoenix Suns
11-04: 9:30 p.m. VS – Los Angeles Lakers
11-05: 9 p.m. VS – Utah Jazz
11-07: 10 p.m. VS – Sacramento Kings
There will be some long nights where some games will carry into the early morning of the day past midnight
Get your coffee ready Toronto, it should be a fun and interesting road trip.
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