For a long time, if there has been an Eastern Conference team the Jazz have loved to face when looking down the barrel of a bad road losing streak, it's been the Toronto Raptors.
Even before Chris Bosh hooked up with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in South Beach, the Jazz generally had their way with the Raptors. All-time, the Jazz are 23-8 against Toronto, and the Jazz have beaten the Raptors seven times straight in Canada. They'll be looking to extend that streak to eight and notch their first road win of the season when they face the Raptors tonight.
The good news for Jazz fans is the Raptors are struggling mightily -- so much so that some in the blogosphere are calling tonight's game against the Jazz a "must-win."
Principally, the Raptors have struggled to field the same team on the court consistently through this young season. The Raptors' best player, former Houston Rockets star Kyle Lowry, suffered a high ankle sprain against Oklahoma City. Apparently the injury was so bad that Lowry couldn't put any weight on his foot in the aftermath.
"It’s real tough," backup big man Ed Davis told the Toronto Sun. "Kyle was playing at an all-star level, so whenever you lose that on any team that’s going to hurt."
Without Lowry, the Raptors are 0-3, including a terrible loss that never should have happened against Philadelphia. The 76ers starters, among them Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, had played 40-plus minutes the night before against Boston. Doug Collins said even before the game that he would need a big game from his bench. Through the first quarter, things looked to be well, but it all fell apart in quarter No. 2.
Philly outscored Toronto 32-7 in the second quarter. It wasn't pretty.
"We just lost our focus at both ends," DeMar DeRozan told the Toronto Sun. "We couldn't score and we couldn't get (any) stops."
Perhaps half-jokingly, perhaps semi-seriously, Raptors coach Dwane Casey told the Globe and Mail, "We haven't put together a true 48 minutes. Give me 46, I'd be happy with that."
Concerning his lineups, Casey has told TheStar.com, "We have to be creative."
The Toronto backcourt is dangerously depleted. The Raptors' myriad of injuries has forced John Lucas III to the backup point-guard position behind Jose Calderon. Doug Smith, a Raptors beat writer, says Lucas is not much of a distributor and is mired in a horrendous shooting slump--not exactly what you're looking for in a point guard.
Furthermore, the three spot has been left totally vacant. Dominic McGuire and Linas Kleiza are decent rotation players, but they'll need to be more than that. One of them is going to start. As of now, TheStar.com has Kleiza starting at the three spot.
There is another player waiting in the wings for an opportunity on the floor, and this might be it for him.
The Toronto Sun is saying Davis has been largely relegated to the bench in favor of Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, despite a stellar preseason in which Davis averaged seven rebounds per game. Since then, Davis's production has shrunk dramatically, as has his playing time on the court.
"I asked him the other day: 'Has anybody seen Ed Davis?' He played well in Minnesota, he was a big-time factor and since then I don't know," Casey told the Sun. "He hasn’t been the same."
With the problems on the wings, if Casey does decide to pack it in the middle and go big, Davis might see an opportunity to get on the floor and prove himself again at the small forward position. Whether or not that happens is unknown, but Casey has made it clear it will be all hands on deck against the Jazz.
The Jazz, without Mo Williams and fighting injury bugs of their own, are hoping Toronto's lineup struggles will contribute to a Jazz win and help them avoid going 0-5 on the road for the first time in 25 years.