Game Preview: Raptors vs. Magic

Holly MacKenzie -

The Orlando Magic are in Toronto to take on the Raptors on Monday. Toronto has won five straight and is looking to avenge an earlier loss to the Magic that took place before the trade deadline. This will be Serge Ibaka's first time facing his former team, while former Raptors player Terrence Ross will return to the city for the first time in a different uniform. The Magic come to Toronto after defeating the Detroit Pistons 115-87 behind a triple-double from Elfrid Payton.

Tip-off: 7:30 P.M. ET

Broadcast info: TSN / SN590


Familiar faces

After being drafted by the Raptors eighth overall in 2012, Terrence Ross spent the first five years of his career in Toronto. His familiarity with teammates and on-court schemes in Toronto allowed him to excel this seasoning, leading to the Orlando Magic trading Serge Ibaka to the Raptors in exchange for Ross at the trade deadline.

In the days following the trade, The Players' Tribune published a lengthy thank you letter to Toronto written by Ross. The letter traced his career in Toronto, from 21-year-old rookie into a 26-year-old father with five years of NBA experience under his belt, while also charting the growth of the fanbase as the team kept improving during his time in a Raptors uniform. It was a poignant letter, beautifully capturing the passion Raptors fans have, as well as the unique relationship between the fanbase and the only NBA team in the country.

Monday's game will be an end-of-March match up between a team the Raptors have already faced three times this year. It will be one of 10 final regular season games for Toronto, but it will be just a little bit more for Ross who will be returning to the city that made his NBA dream come true. The Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins talked to Ross in advance of his return.

"I spent the first part of my career there, so I'm sure it'll be nice to see everybody and everybody's going to get a little touchy," Ross said. "It's going to be nice to go back."

After opening his essay with the scene in Jurassic Park outside of the Air Canada Centre prior to Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, Ross spoke to Magic reporters about how much those memories meant to him.

"Going to the playoffs, going to the Eastern Conference finals — that was a big accomplishment for the team and for myself. Getting there and going six games with the champs, it was fun and it's something you always look back on that you can always use as experience. No matter how tough things get right now, you know that you can put yourself [out there] to do more. It's definitely one of my favourite times."

Starting strong

Toronto led wire-to-wire in Saturday's 94-86 victory against the Dallas Mavericks. After spending much of the season talking about getting off to better starts, the Raptors had a dominant first quarter in Dallas, scoring the first seven points of the game and leading by 10 after the opening 12 minutes. Patrick Patterson revealed that the team was challenged in the locker room prior to the game to get off on the right foot.

"From the start, here in the locker room, the leaders on the team and also the coaching staff making a conscious effort, a statement, that we needed to start the game off the right way," Patterson said. "The starting unit did it. They got stops on the defensive end, they capitalized on offence, JV crashing the boards, [DeMar] easy shots, Serge asserting himself on the court. The second unit came in and wanted to keep up that effort."

Defence matters

While slow starts have been an issue for the Raptors, head coach Dwane Casey has also had to worry about the team's defence. With an up-and-down commitment on that end of the floor, things have been steadily improving since the All-Star break. After a shaky stretch in January, the team has been defending more consistently.

Besides simply bringing a better effort to the floor each night, Casey pointed to the team's newest additions as reason for why things have been improving in recent weeks despite Kyle Lowry's absence as he rehabs from wrist surgery.

"The two guys our front office added, P.J. and Serge, are excellent defenders," Casey said. "We're doing nothing different, our coverages are the same. It's different people. Those two men bring the energy and the toughness. For the first time that I've been in Toronto, we have two guys in the huddle talking defence. Usually guys are saying how can I get my shot, how can I get my touches and those two guys are coming in and talking about defence."