With the Magic set to square off against the Raptors in a seven-game series, we thought it would be helpful to get the perspective of someone from the North.
Dylan Litman, a writer for the Raptors community Raptors HQ, was nice enough to answer questions ranging from Pascal Siakam’s struggles against the Magic to the pressure facing the Raptors this offseason....
Have we seen the best of the Raptors yet this season or do you think they are about to peak during the playoffs?
Occasionally, the Raptors appear alarmingly indifferent on the court. However, we’ve seen flashes where the Raptors look like they’ve pieced everything together, which is encouraging. At this point in the season, it’s about whether the team can string together entire games playing at the height of their potential.
Luckily, Kawhi has publicly stated that playoff games are the only ones that truly matter; it seems there’s another level he’s yet to unleash this season. With Lowry’s decreased workload, largely due to Pascal Siakam’s breakout year, I think he’ll be fresh and rearing to go on Saturday. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say the Raptors are going to peak during the playoffs (please don’t make me regret putting this in writing).
Pascal Siakam has struggled against the Magic and Jonathan Isaac this season, what does he have to do against Orlando to play more like the near-All Star he has been this season?
Jonathan Isaac is a tough matchup for Siakam – rarely does Pascal play against a physical specimen with defensive instincts akin to his own. To counter, it’s important for Pascal not to force drives that aren’t there. Instead, he should look to facilitate the offense more, especially when Lowry needs some rest. If Marc Gasol frees up Danny Green on the perimeter with a screen, Pascal’s driving threat makes him a great candidate to attract defenses and hit Danny with the pass.
As well, it would benefit him to operate more as a cutter in this series. He’s great at catching defenders off guard, sliding past with quick bursts of speed and utilizing his length to finish effectively around the rim. If he can ever catch Isaac off guard, cutting to the rim should be the first thought on his mind. Lastly, we’ve seen Pascal take the occasional midrange jumper recently. I’m not in love with this idea, but I could see him trying out some short jumpers if he’s unable to find paths to the rim with Isaac and Aaron Gordon in his way. For what it’s worth, he’s seen some success, though limited, from that area of the floor lately.
Which role players on the Raptors could help swing this series for Toronto?
If you want to consider Danny Green a role player, then this question becomes very easy! His unwavering confidence reassures his teammates on the floor, and he’s an expert at finding open spots, launching the ball faster than his defenders can adjust (see April 1st against Orlando – sorry!).
Other than Danny, I suspect Serge Ibaka is going to play a large role in attempting to take down the Magic. Serge’s willingness to take long jumpers can aid in pulling Isaac and Gordon out of the paint, leading way for cutters to take advantage of the extra space around the rim.
Let’s not forget about Fred VanVleet. Marc Gasol is adept at facilitating from the elbows, and Fred is at his best running off screens and operating as an off-ball cutter, putting himself in catch-and-shoot scenarios. They’ve quickly developed some impressive chemistry since Fred’s return from injury, and I expect that to carry through into this series.
What, if anything, concerns you about facing a team like the Magic?
The Magic are a well-coached team with multiple explosive scorers and two freakishly proportioned athletic defensive centerpieces. As mentioned before, Isaac’s proficiency in covering Siakam could potentially put a damper on the Raptors’ chances. This series might not be a cakewalk.
Still, I’m not too worried. Simply put, the Raptors have been a far better team this year, even while dealing with load management games (worth it) and multiple lengthy injuries to key players. With a healthy roster, Toronto has far too many weapons on both ends of the floor for me to be seriously concerned about losing this series. My heart is telling me to worry, but my brain is telling me to relax.
With Toronto’s inability to overcome LeBron in recent years, and with Kawhi Leonard’s impending free agency, is there more pressure on the Raptors this postseason than ever before? Is anything less than a championship a disappointment?
I highly doubt most Raptors fans are expecting a championship this year. Anything less than a finals berth would certainly be disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. The Bucks have played impeccably all season, and assuming we see them in the Conference Finals, I would expect it to be a close series.
This is Toronto’s most realistic chance at a finals appearance since Vince Carter led the 2001 Raptors to the ECSF against Philly. When you factor in Kawhi’s decision in June, there’s more pressure on this team to succeed in the playoffs than we’ve ever seen before. Though, Kawhi’s track record as a playoff hero helps calm my nerves a bit.
Thanks again to Dylan for chatting with us. Be sure to visit Raptors HQ for come great content about the Magic’s opponent.