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Raptors Insider Lookahead: March 22nd-29th

The Toronto Raptors have their backs against the wall, having dropped nine straight games including Monday night to the Houston Rockets.

Just days before the NBA’s trade deadline this Thursday, Toronto now owns the league’s longest active losing streak, while sitting at 11th in the East (17-26). The Raptors will likely be looking to make a move at the deadline to try to build for the future or provide some sort of spark to its current lineup.

Looking ahead at the Raptors’ upcoming four games, their schedule features a three-game homestand against three of the best teams in the Western Conference. To round it out they will travel to Detroit to face the Pistons, a team they have already lost twice to this year. If we are talking about Toronto’s playoff hopes, this is truly a make-or-break stretch for the Raptors.

Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors March 24th

This will be the Raptors first matchup of the season against the Denver Nuggets who are of course led by one of the league’s most talented and elite centers, Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” will be the main cause for concern for Toronto, but Canadian guard Jamal Murray will also present the Raptors with a lot of troubles, especially considering the fact they have struggled to guard Collin Sexton and John Wall recently.

The Raptors might have a fighting chance at beating the Nuggets considering they will be coming off a back-to-back while Toronto will have a day of rest in between. But this is one of the toughest teams to guard in the NBA and the matchups don’t favour the Raptors at the guard and center positions.

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Player to watch: Jamal Murray

If you are a fan of the Raptors, you probably also enjoy watching some Canadian talent in the NBA. Murray is as good as it gets among Canada’s best players and he set a new career-high earlier this season when he dropped 50 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He’s dangerous to go off any night of the week and he just might use the motivation of facing Canada’s team to turn in another big performance.

Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors March 26th

The Suns sit firmly at second in the Western Conference with a record of 28-13. While some might say they are one of the surprise teams of the season, you could tell they were trending upwards after going undefeated to finish the NBA’s restart in the bubble, and then added veterans Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to their roster.

The last time these two teams faced each other, Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 32 points, but the Raptors still lost 123-115.

Guarding their star-studded backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker will be the biggest challenge for the Raptors, but the former number one overall pick Deandre Ayton will also present Toronto with a big size mismatch in the paint. The Suns have been successful this season despite Devin Booker missing some time due to injury and that’s because they have a solid rotation and a deep roster. That same thing cannot be said about the Raptors rotation right now.

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Player to watch: Chris Paul

At 35 years of age, Paul is truly one of the more under-appreciated players in today’s game and he is also quietly having an MVP-calibre season. Averaging 15.9 points 4.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists a night, Paul is showing great longevity in his 16th season.

Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors March 28th

This is the second matchup of the season between the Raptors and Trail Blazers after the Raps lost 112-111 back in January. The Blazers have been forced to go small this season after their starting centre Jusuf Nurkic went down with a fracture in his right wrist early in the season.

The Raptors of course play a similar style, going small for long stretches of the game while depending on their talented backcourt. It’s hard to know exactly what the Raptors’ roster will look like for this matchup, but the Blazers will be leaning on their superstar point guard Damian Lillard and his backcourt running mate CJ McCollum who just recently returned from a 25 game absence due to a fracture in his left foot.

The Raptors could be looking at a bleak losing streak heading into this matchup against Portland and the similar play styles just might work in Toronto’s favour. I’m hoping the Raptors can get a hard-fought win in this matchup that could give them a much-needed confidence boost.

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Player to watch: Damian Lillard

This goes without saying, but Lillard is one of the most entertaining players to watch in all of the NBA. His tough shot-making ability, especially in crunch time, is unmatched in today’s game and the Raptors are going to have their hands full trying to slow him down. Even when you think Portland is out of the game Lillard always has one last say before the buzzer sounds.

Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons March 29th

I think I speak for all Raptor fans when I say it’s time to get some payback against the Pistons and former head coach Dwane Casey. The Raptors are 0-2 against the Pistons this season, who have owned the worst record in the Eastern Conference for quite some time now (12-30).

This will be the Raptors’ third and final matchup against the Pistons this season and if they get shutout by Detroit, that’s just flat-out embarrassing.

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Player to watch: Saddiq Bey

Saddiq Bey has been a solid rookie find for Detroit this year. During the last matchup, Bey put up 28 points (two shy of his career-high) and 12 rebounds. He shouldn’t be the Raptors’ main focus coming into this matchup but they definitely can’t afford to let him have another near-career-night.

If the Raptors can go 2-2 in these next four games, it would be a welcome sight, especially considering how tough three of the next four opponents are. Anything worse than 2-2 would have the Raptors playoff hopes in extreme doubt if they aren’t already. Fingers crossed.

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