It would be a mistake to think there are any easy wins for the Toronto Raptors on a 5 game Western conference road trip and even the last place Sacramento Kings are a team that can trip up the unwary visitor. Plus, this will be a game filled with emotion for both sides, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not, and the energy gained from playing against the team that just traded you is a knife that cuts both ways.
“We have to treat like another game,” Patrick Patterson said. “Treat it like it’s another game on the schedule and don’t try to blow it up too big. Even though we are going back there, even though we do know the circumstances and yeah, they did trade us. (I have) great relationships with the guys on that team and so forth. We can’t overlook that opponent, we just have to treat it like it is anybody else and go into that game strong-minded and focused.”
Patterson is saying all the right things and good luck with treating like it’s just another game on the schedule – something that almost never happens under these conditions.
On December 8th, the teams announced Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy would be heading to Sacramento for Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and Patterson and since then, both teams can claim it has worked out. The Raptors are 20-10 without Gay and in first place in the Atlantic Division. The Kings are 10-15 with Gay, who has missed 3 games with a sore Achilles and didn’t play for 2 games with the Kings while the trade was being finalized. The Kings were 5-13 pre-trade, so they have played much better with him – including the games he has missed according to Head Coach Michael Malone.
“The way we are right now, we are an offensive team,” Malone said recently. “We have had DeMarcus (Cousins) and Rudy Gay out and have put up 120 points, 117 points, so offense is never going to be a problem for the team aside from the turnovers, but the defense, that is such a different mentality for these guys and just try to pound that rock everyday and understand the importance of it.”
The Kings have scored over 110 points 8 times since the trade and over 120 points twice. They are averaging 101.6 points per game on the season and shooting over 45 percent from the field. Gay has been a big contributor to their offense, shooting 53 percent from the field since he arrived compared to just 38.8 percent while he was in Toronto. In his last 4 games, Gay has averaged 23.8 points on 56.5 percent shooting to go with 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals, however, the Kings are 1 win and 3 losses over that stretch.
There is rarely any defense played by Sacramento, unfortunately. On the season, they rank 28th for points allowed (103.8) and opponents’ field goal percentage (46.5). Since the trade, they have given up over 110 points 13 times and over 120 points 4 times and their record is 11-19. They finally broke a 7 game losing streak by beating the worst offensive team in the NBA (the Bulls) 99-70 at home.
The Raptors are 2 wins and 1 loss on the road trip and won easily over the Jazz on Monday 94-79. The confidence level in the Raptors locker room is high.
“It gave us a lot of confidence to (head) to Sacramento – which is a game I am looking forward to,” Vasquez said. “In Sacramento, it was not good at all, the chemistry and now, here, we just clicked. It is just fun to watch. We just want to play with each other. We have such great chemistry.
“You are always looking forward to playing against the team that traded you. It is funny, I try not to take it personal, but more than that, it is about winning. At the end of the day, whether I play well or I don’t play well, I just want to come back to Sacramento and (move on to) L.A. with a win. It is all about winning.”
Giving up 96.4 points per game, the Raptors are the NBA’s fourth ranked team in that category and they are ninth ranked for opponent’s field goal percentage at 44.6 percent. Toronto is a middle-of-the-pack offensive team averaging 99.3 points per game. Head Coach Dwane Casey hangs his team’s fortunes on their defense and at this point and everybody has bought in.
The Raptors can beat the Kings by being who they are. A defensively conscious team that limits their turnovers, finishes off defensive stands with the rebound, shares the ball and plays under control at the offensive end of the court. While they are still a young team and subject to lapses in discipline, the 4 players acquired from the Kings have played a huge role in stabilizing the rotation and picking up the young guys when they get out-of-sync. It will be very important that the 4 former Kings keep their emotions in check during their first visit back to Sacramento.
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