Game Preview: Raptors @ Magic

Holly MacKenzie -

The Raptors look to shake off a 125-121 loss to the Atlanta Hawks and get back in the winning column when they take on the Magic in Orlando on Sunday. This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season and will mark the first time the team sees former Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo.

Tip-off: 6:00 P.M. ET

Broadcast Info: TSN2 / TSN1050


Familiar faces

In just one season with Toronto, Bismack Biyombo became a fan favourite on court and a locker room favourite away from it. Orlando Sentinel reporter Josh Robbins spoke with Biyombo in advance of Sunday’s game and one thing is clear: Although Biyombo is wearing a different uniform this season, his bond with his Raptors teammates remains fully in tact.

"I just think it's going to be fun for me," Biyombo told Robbins. "Emotional? Yes, it's going to be emotional. Those are my guys, my brothers and family."

As Toronto continues to find its footing defensively this season, Biyombo’s departure has allowed an opportunity for Lucas Nogueira and rookie Jakob Poeltl to play. Having a defender like Biyombo on the bench was a luxury. After a stellar season with the Raptors where his best play happened in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Biyombo knows his time in Toronto allowed for the opportunity he has in Orlando now.

"Last year for me was special because I don't think without them I [would] be where I am today," Biyombo told the Orlando Sentinel. "They gave me an opportunity and they let me help them. So in the end, we all helped each other. We worked for each other, and the result was what it was, and I think we could live with that."

Shifting the focus to defence

Toronto has already scored 120 points eight times this season. This is topped by just two seasons (2014-15 and 2005-06) where the team accomplished it nine times. Last year’s team topped 120 points just twice. After the team’s practice on Thursday, Patrick Patterson discussed needing to shift attention onto the defence.

“I’m hoping it happens before, knock on wood, a bad loss,” Patterson said. “Hopefully we realize we need to stop dribble penetration, stop people getting to the paint, help each other on the defensive end by talking and communicating and finish plays with rebounds. All those things we used to do we have to get back to. I’m hoping we find a way to get back to that and still have that offensive side as well.”

Patterson’s concerns were validated when the Raptors dropped Friday’s contest to the Atlanta Hawks 125-121. After the game, Casey’s words echoed Patterson’s from the day before.

“We scored enough points,” Casey said. “121 points, shooting 54 percent, 47 percent form three. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where our problem is… We’ve got to have defence in the game. We can score. I’m not worried about our scoring, but until we individually make a decision to guard your man, my man, we’re going to be an up and down team.”

Casey has been asked repeatedly about the team’s high-scoring offensive efficiency. Each time he has answered to say his focus has been on how the team is performing defensively. Despite his continued preaching, it has been difficult for the team to worry about the defence when there’s been so much success on the offensive end of the floor.

“Guys are hitting shots so we want to score and put up as many points as possible,” Patterson said. “But also we still need to get stops and play that Toronto Raptors defence that we have in the past.”

Bench depth coming up big

At the start of the season Raptors games were the DeMar DeRozan show. As his 30-point performances stacked up night after night the attention was on DeRozan and what he was doing each time he stepped onto the floor. Lost in that excitement was how quiet Toronto’s bench had been. As the season has rolled along though, the reserves have started to get things rolling in a big way.

Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph have both been huge in December. Joseph has provided a scoring boost when needed while also being part of the Kyle Lowry + reserves lineup that has been so successful dating back to last season. The team has been better on both ends of the floor when Patterson is in the lineup and he has a higher +/- than anyone else on the roster. The improved play of the reserves is extremely important for Toronto as the season presses on. Depth is crucial in an 82-game season.

“It helps a lot,” Joseph said. “You need that, especially going later in the season. It’s a long season - God forbid anybody gets hurt – [and it helps with] rest and all that type of stuff. So you need guys that’ll be able to pick up the slack whenever you get your name called upon.”

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