Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out for tonight’s game against the New York Knicks due to load management.
Not playing in the second game of a back-to-back has been standard protocol for Leonard this season. The Raptors are coming off a tough 110-107 road loss against the Pistons yesterday, with Leonard dropping 33 points on 11 of 21 shooting and 5 of 8 from 3-point range, along with 10 rebounds in 36 minutes.
Toronto is just three games behind Milwaukee for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference but not risking their best player at this point of the season makes perfect sense. Leonard has scored at least 35 points in six straight games and the team knows that his presence is vital if they want to make a deep playoff run.
Raptors Roster & Starting Lineup vs. Knicks
*Notates expected starter
C: Marc Gasol*, Chris Boucher
PF: Pascal Siakam*, Eric Moreland
SF: Patrick McCaw*, Norman Powell
SG: Danny Green*, OG Anunoby
PG: Jeremy Lin*, Fred VanVleet
Lowry has missed the last two games due to a sprained right ankle and since the Raptors are playing their second game of a back-to-back, it wouldn’t be surprising if they remained cautious with him.
The Knicks are coming off a 124-123 win against the Lakers on Sunday but they’re just 2-8 in their last 10 games and there’s a reason why they have the worst record in the NBA. Risking Lowry against them makes no sense. If Lowry is ruled out, Jeremy Lin would be their starting point guard once again.
The last time Kawhi Leonard sat out, Patrick McCaw started in his place, but he, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell should all see extended minutes in his absence. McCaw, Anunoby and Powell combined for 36 points in a 125-104 road win against the Heat on March 10.
Leonard played three straight games for the first time since early February and the decision to rest him was an obvious one.
With Serge Ibaka still out because of a suspension and Kyle Lowry questionable, Pascal Siakam has to step up the most on offense. Siakam had just 12 points on 6 of 13 shooting in 32 minutes against the Pistons but he’s averaging 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 31.6 minutes over his last five games and when he’s on the court he makes an impact.
Siakam has grown beyond the role player title, developing into an integral part of the team’s core. Siakam’s game has grown to the point that many consider him the clear favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award and the Raptors need him to have a big game tonight.