Pascal gets spicy, Raps get a win

by Chris O'Leary

Some nights a player steps onto the court and you can almost see a big night radiating from them. 

On Sunday, Pascal Siakam had that glow. It came in Euro steps that seemed to endlessly bound through the paint, one country to another to the basket. It was in his crossover, left to right, that shook James Ennis III and opened up the baseline for him to finish off the glass for one of those and-one plays that the Raptors have been missing this season. 

His third-quarter posterization of the Magic’s Aaron Gordon was his best play of the year to this point. It left the 26-year-old screaming and flexing in the aftermath and may have caused Matt Devlin some vocal cord damage. Both will tell you these are the costs of battle. 

You could go through each of Siakam’s game-high 30 points -- a night spent attacking the rim, pulling in 10 rebounds, getting three steals and a block -- and find something to love. He was aggressive from the opening tip, showing the spiciness that made him an All-Star for the first time last year. 

If you watched his performance in the Raptors’ 115-102 win and felt like you were watching a rejuvenated version of Siakam, you’re not wrong. After some time to heal up last week, he’s feeling it, too. 

“The biggest part for me is to continue to work on my body and to continue to work on my game,” Siakam said after the Raptors snapped their three-game losing streak. 

“Over the past week I haven’t been feeling well, little injuries here and there. (I have to) continue to make sure I get Alex (McKechnie, the team’s VP of player health and performance) and all of those guys every day taking care of my body. That’s what I’ve been focusing on the past week. It makes me feel good and my body feels good. I think if I feel good I’ll have that energy to go out there every single night and live with the results.” 

A groin injury that flared up on a missed dunk (and perhaps a missed foul call) against the Heat on Jan. 20, paired with some knee swelling kept Siakam out of last week’s series against Indiana. After a quiet night against Milwaukee on Jan. 27, Siakam posted his first back-to-back 30-plus-point nights of the season, tying a season-best 32 against Sacramento, then adding Sunday night’s 30 against Orlando. 

“My body feels good, that’s the most important thing. I’m not looking at the points, I’m not looking at anything,” he said. 

“I just look at my overall involvement in the game. Once you have that overall energy and you’re able to be out there I’m able to enjoy the game of basketball and everything else comes with it. 

“Scoring 10 points and having 20 rebounds, that’s what I’ll do, or scoring 30, whatever the case might be. I just think that it all comes from feeling good and having a good spirit out there.” 

“We know who’s the main guy on the team,” Raptors’ forward DeAndre’ Bembry said of Siakam. 

“He's going to be aggressive and we want him to be aggressive. What he showed tonight is pretty much what we think he’ll show every night. Obviously the ball won't fall every night, but that’s Pascal for you. He's going to attack the rim, he’s going to shoot his midrange, he’s going to shoot his three, he's going to rebound, he's going to assist. 

“That's what you need out of the main player on your team and that's just what he does. We're confident in what he does. We know he's gonna try to make the right play and obviously tonight, the night he had...we expect him to do every night.” 

The Magic are dealing with their own issue, having lost 11 of 13 since losing Markelle Fultz for the season, but the Raptors can use this convincing win to try to build some momentum. They enter into a difficult stretch of their schedule, with nine of their next 10 games on the road. At 8-12, the .500 mark is attainable but they’ll need to play consistently well while dealing with the challenges of a long road trip. 

An All-Star calibre Siakam leading the charge helps put that picture in focus for the Raptors.

“Losing (the last) three games sucks,” Siakam said. “We’ve got to get back to winning and I think that’s what we did (against Orlando) and we have to continue to do that.” 

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